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Interview with Marc Edwards, Transcribed February 8, 2021


(L-R) Former state EPA administrator Susan Hedman, former Flint, Michigan Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, and Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor Marc Edwards are sworn in to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee before the"Examining Federal Administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint, Michigan, Part 2" hearing at the Rayburn House Building on March 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo by Leigh Vogel


Please check our Youtube Channel to hear the live conversation.


Clelia Sheppard:

... Clelia.

Marc Edwards:

Hi, how are you?

Clelia Sheppard:

Good. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today on such short notice.

Marc Edwards:

Glad to do so. Glad to do so.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, I know I sent you a lot. I'm looking at this lecture that you sent me and I will definitely check that out on my own time, but I don't want to bore you too much with my small-town peninsula issues, but I was very inspired by what you accomplished in Flint and I was told by Andrew McCoy this is your specialty. And I just kind of feel like I have an instinct that there's something not quite right with the water systems where I live, and probably I can't fix it all, but I just feel dissatisfied with the way it's set up and the lackadaisical attitude of the government locally. And I just feel like there's so much that could be done to make this world a better place. But of course money's always an issue, blah, blah, blah.

And I just didn't know what were some steps that anybody could make from a simple point of view to just at least get some evidence that there are issues as far as the quality and also even just the name. What is a good test to use that I can just do on my own or also just as far as trying to quantify all these issues that I sent to you in the email for housing study. I want to make sure that all the aspects of water for people in their households are not ignored. And I'm sure that this will happen, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing any kind of language that maybe I wouldn't have said otherwise because it's not really my area of study.

Marc Edwards:

Okay. Well-

Clelia Sheppard:

It's kind of a lot, but-

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, no, it's gratifying to see people are interested in this issue. It's complicated, and I think that the place to start is really that lecture, another lecture I gave on infrastructure inequality. But really, I think this is coming about not just because of general decline in morals and ethics, although that's probably part of it in scientists and engineers. And why would you expect government to be trustworthy anyway, I guess.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. Yeah, why would they?

Marc Edwards:

Misconduct here, most concerning is scientists and engineers because you'd think they were trustworthy working for government agencies when they're not anymore.

Clelia Sheppard:

Are you talking about the ones that work for them consistently or the ones they contract to do these kind of jobs?

Marc Edwards:

Both. Yeah, it's a whole ecosystem. But the one that I found most perplexing is you're in a nonprofit, basically. You've got a government civil service job, why would you lie and make up data and break the law? And so that's the conundrum I've been trying to deal with because no one anticipated that we have checks and balances on industry because they have conflicts of interest, but it's just assumed that if you work at the government, you would never lie because we set up your job so that you can't generally really profit from water. We think that water is so important that we have environmental policemen overseeing it whose paycheck's not directly correlated to pulling a fast one on us, but nonetheless, God, they cheat over and over again, lying over and over again.

Clelia Sheppard:

It just shows the stratification of society too. And I'm starting to think that part of that elite, people always talking about the elites, a lot of it stems in a lower level of who is running the government. Because the government really is supposed to just be people. I think everyone has this idea of the government and it's like this big scary entity, but really it's just a bunch of bozos. They're just like us. They all do the same things we need to do every day to survive like eat and drink and wash and take a shower.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah. Exactly.

Clelia Sheppard:

And yet I know somebody who's been in jail for 12 years because they had a little bit of pot on them, and yet people can lie about water quality? I mean, it infuriates me. I feel very passionately about it.

Anyway, I wanted you to do talking, but I do feel like it's very frustrating to see that, I think a lot of people feel powerless about how to actually make their voices heard or ask.

For accountability.

Marc Edwards:

Right. No. So there's, let me just get started here and start going through some of the questions.

Clelia Sheppard:

I actually watched the YouTube thing. I saw your senate thing about the EPA, so I feel like you don't have to answer all that, but whatever one seems interesting to you, you don't have to do all of them.

Marc Edwards:

Okay. Well, so let's see. Yeah, we have Third World problems here in this country and I think there is shame associated with it. And I think that's one reason why it's allowed to persist because people are ashamed that they're in that situation in America is a shame that folks are in that situation. So no one really wants to talk about it. So shame is a big deal. We have students that want to go all around the world and tell people how screwed up the other countries are, but if it's something in their backyard and people are going to hate on you for pointing it out, they don't want to do that. And I know why, because you get in trouble. So that's the shame issue.

Clelia Sheppard:

It goes against our propaganda that we're the best.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, I think that's, yeah, we have an overly positive self-image just like all of humankind. That's something we protect. Okay, well the EPA does have authority on the lead in water, but they cheat and they lie and they break the law. And so...

Clelia Sheppard:

Why would they do that when their role is to protect the environment? Why would they exist? What is their motivation to do that, laziness?

Marc Edwards:

Well, I think there was an issue where they got, it's a variety of factors. One is they're arrogant pricks. Another is that they kind of got in this mindset that they're the good guys. And the water industry used to be good guys in this country, it's a quasi public health agency. You think of water utilities, your friendly local water utility. And I think moreover confidence is a huge issue. So they used to do a really, really good job. The types of problems I deal with are new territory for them. They used to take care of the water up to the property line and lead and leaks and Legionella, which are the biggest issues we face occur from things happening in people's homes. Because there's no lead in water mains. So they sell this water that influences lead, leaks and Legionella in people's homes, it has billions of dollars of damages, kills people and causes elevated blood lead in children. They never wanted the responsibility for that problem. They think they should just sell you the water and then it's your problem.

But when they passed the lead and copper rule, that made them take responsibility that they never wanted or accepted, and so then they started cheating. Because it's easier to cheat than to do their job. And EPA, I think it's an example of regulatory capture where they just assume these water utilities are good guys like them, and so they're never willing to enforce. It's not like industry, normal industry, where there tends to be a more adversarial oversight role. It's more like, oh, we're in this together and we all think this law is bullshit. And so do whatever you want to do.

Clelia Sheppard:

I wanted to ask, sorry to interrupt briefly. You said lead and then there was like Legionnaire, what was that word?

Marc Edwards:

Legionnaires' disease. Yeah, it comes from bad bacteria that grow in your pipes and your water heater, it will kill you in the shower or make you sick or you're immunocompromised. So thousands of people are, and this is a brand new sort of issue we discovered in 1970, and we only really realized that it had hard numbers that it was killing people in their homes about 2008. So unlike lead, there's no laws. We're trying to get laws, we're trying to figure out what to do about this dangerous bacteria and it's representative of many other bacteria. So those are the two elements of Flint, our lead, which is the oldest known contaminant regulated, they broke the law. And then Legionella, which is very, very new, and they had an outbreak and 12 people died. So the point is, it's contested territory and normally good people end up doing bad things because they just don't want the responsibility for it.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, I could think of a few people from that hearing, including one who's now newly appointed by the Biden Administration to be part of the climate.

Marc Edwards:

[inaudible 00:11:21], yeah.

Clelia Sheppard:

It's pretty shocking. And I don't really like to be right or left. It's more like, yeah, just decency would be nice.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, telling the truth would be a good start. But the can't

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, just-

Marc Edwards:

CDC lied and then they lied their way out of the D.C. They gave Congress the finger and then Congress didn't want to do anything because it's the CDC and Republicans don't care and Democrats want to protect them. So they got off and then they learned all the wrong lessons.

Clelia Sheppard:

What about, sorry, what about pesticides? Because I live in a rural area and I have this feeling, and people saying their skin is burning. I'm wondering is that too much chlorine? I wish there was a panel because I've looked on Amazon for some things, but I don't know how reliable it is. And I'm just wondering besides lead and Legionnaire, what are other things to look for?

Marc Edwards:

Well, there's a lot to worry about if you want to, but overall, I think it's important to keep in mind that generally speaking, US water utilities provide relatively safe water at very, very low cost. And there's a lot of uncertain things like pesticides and antibiotic resistance and bacteria and all these things. And folks are really sorting those things out. And there's a debate about what's safe and if you ultimately decide to regulate, you pick a number, half the people think it's too low and half the people think it's too high. That's how society sets regulations. So there's a lot of things people are worried about. I wouldn't say needlessly, but there is a lot of needless worry.

And one of my things that make me most angry about Flint is that undermined trust and drinking water all around the country. So even the 98%, that number I just made up off the top of my head, are utilities that do their job and probably the water's safe, still, a lot of people are worried that they're next, that they're hiding something. So that's the danger.

But all those things are of concern, but very few things rise to the level of illegal activity or breaking an existing standard like a law. And so I think that's what differentiates D.C. and Flint and Dunbar South Carolina, it's like you caught them breaking a law and lying about it.

Clelia Sheppard:

Where does this lead come from? Is it from the pipes? Is it just inherent to the process of how they filter?

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, no, it was added purposely. There's three types of lead, so there's a reason for all of it. The worst is the lead pipe itself, which is the best plumbing material known to man, except it kills people and causes lead poisoning. So it lasts forever, and it doesn't break. So back in the day when you only cared about quantity of water, not quality, you just wanted to bathe and shower and not have breaking pipes, then it was great, but it's not a modern pipe material.

Lead solder was used to connect solder, copper pipes together, glue them together through '86 and lead was added to brass purposefully [inaudible 00:15:13] until 2014 to make it easier to machine very intricate engineering parts. There are reasons for all these things but the issue is there's relatively lead-free plumbing today. Nothing is zero lead, but it's going to be a long time before we get the lead out. We have to learn to live with it. And all the modern plumbing materials are relatively very, very low lead, orders of magnitude less of a concern than the old materials.

Clelia Sheppard:

So it's just kind of something we can't escape. And it's also the best known material to man. What about some sort of metal alloy that was like [inaudible 00:16:03].

Marc Edwards:

Well, I said except the caveat that...

Clelia Sheppard:

It kills people.

Marc Edwards:

It kills people and it causes elevated blood lead. Important caveat.

Clelia Sheppard:

And when you said people are purposefully adding it, is it because of the infrastructure or is there, you said there's three sources?

Marc Edwards:

Well, it's in the brass parts, intricate faucets, for example, they're engineering marvels. And to machine those, you could add a little bit of lead to your brass, which is copper and zinc, and it just reduces the cost by a factor of five or so. And so it'll be added up to 1%, 2%, 5% lead by weight purposefully. But that was phased out in 2014.

Clelia Sheppard:

So yeah, I guess more example-

Marc Edwards:

So now brass has more ambient levels of lead in it, just what's in the natural ore or something like that.

Clelia Sheppard:

Sorry for sounding like an idiot, but you said copper and zinc, what is that, is that brass?

Marc Edwards:

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, up to 12% lead by weight. It could be added.

Clelia Sheppard:

And what is, in Flint, sorry, I know I could probably look this up online, but what is the parts per million in the water that's acceptable versus dangerous? What was their...

Marc Edwards:

Well, it's really hard to say. The health impacts from lead are dramatically exaggerated in Flint. It varied from house to house. So the vast majority of Flint wasn't exposed to very high levels, but there were a few cases where it got into the tens of thousands of PPP.

Clelia Sheppard:

Which is like 10,000 times more than it should be?

Marc Edwards:

A thousand. Well, I mean what should it be if you assume you should be below 15, which is the action level. Yeah, there was I would say a thousand times higher, but that was the rare, rare exception. Not to minimize what happened, but the elevation, the children's blood lead is not even close to what people believe based on the news reports. So that's another sad part of the story is folks using this to their political advantage to get money, a lot of money.

Clelia Sheppard:

For reparations or something like that?

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, reparations, class action lawsuits, lawyers use it as a hammer to attack people and exaggerate and try to make it a political problem when it really wasn't.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. And that's not what science is supposed to be about. It's supposed to just be, look, there's the problem, let's fix it and that's it. Move on.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah. Or at least should give the appearance of being nonpolitical. But that doesn't happen nowadays, unfortunately.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, especially with social media and everything, it's really easy for stuff to go crazy. But yeah, I mean, so probably it's everywhere. Can't really escape it. But there are certain, I don't know, if we lived in a utopian world, would it be that everyone had a composting house or that even large cities use that? What would be the real solution if money and politics...

Marc Edwards:

And again, they do a good job of delivering a very high quality product at low cost, and you could get a better quality product if you wanted to pay a lot more for it, but we don't want to pay. And many towns like Flint can't afford to pay.

Clelia Sheppard:

What would the real cost of water be if it was really clean? I was reading that article about in certain parts of the Western states, how there's kind of these battles for owning water rights.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, well there's the water, out there, the water itself has a lot of value because it's so scarce. Whereas generally on the East Coast, we tend to be more water rich, so it becomes more, not an issue of quantity, but quality.

Clelia Sheppard:

Is that because we're getting it from aquifers or because of the humid climate and the condensate, I don't know exactly-

Marc Edwards:

We have a lot more rain and surface water on the east and some of the arid water scarce. Obviously we still live in the desert, you know what the problem is, right? So there's no real eastern deserts.

Clelia Sheppard:

That's true. That makes sense. I just didn't know if exactly where, is it because of the exact, is it just the water table below, what's below the ground?

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, we're over pumping, particularly in the West, we're over pumping aquifers. And so that's a irreplaceable asset that's just being disappeared.

Clelia Sheppard:

How do you even find an aquifer? What does it even look like? Is it just like a pocket of water under the soil?

Marc Edwards:

It's an underground lake, yeah, there's various geological ways of identifying it. Obviously the simplest is just drill a pipe and hope you hit water. If it's there, you got water and if it doesn't, you wasted your time.

Clelia Sheppard:

It's not like there's a metal detector for aquifers, is there?

Marc Edwards:

No.

Clelia Sheppard:

I mean, you couldn't just scan the ground, you just have to kind of figure it out.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah. Nope, you can't do that. There's seismic things and plus the aquifers are well demarcated now through trial and error over more than a century of drilling holes.

Clelia Sheppard:

Okay. Because there was a golf course near in this town and people were trying to figure out how can we make this water plant a zero emissions one? I was like, what does that even mean to have a zero emissions water plant? And they're basically, this nearby golf course in August is using a million gallons of water per day, and the head of the water department in this small town was saying that that's leaching the aquifer. And I'm just wondering how would you prove that if that was, and is it kind of making a mountain of a molehill to even try to prove that? I don't know.

Marc Edwards:

Well, that's what it comes down to. So for a lot of the problems you're describing, people have worries. And you're trying to help them address those scientifically because if you don't have data, you're just another person with an opinion. So when we get involved, we usually now, because often you're working with activists and many activists don't want to believe anything except what their cause is. And so if they can't accept data, if it shows something good, then you best not even get started. And unfortunately that's a lot of the world right now.

So we do work with Citizen Science and help them, and nine times out of 10 you'll find out we can't find anything wrong with your water. That doesn't mean there's not something wrong with it, but given the limited things we can look for in our techniques and funding and budget, we either can find something of concern or we can't. So that's an issue. And a lot of folks aren't willing to listen to data, and if the data doesn't show what they want, they're going to hate on you and attack you, be mad at you. And if the data does show what they want, of course you're the greatest hero. So that's kind of the starting point. What do you have that's legitimate?

And secondly, what box does it fall into if it's just part of a debate and a policy thing? Some of these newer forever chemicals or something, right? Like the DuPont Teflon container.

Clelia Sheppard:

Oh yeah.

Marc Edwards:

So that's, okay, it's part per trillion. Okay, now, yeah, it's everywhere pert near. So now how worried should you be and how much are you willing to pay? And you got a decade of debate ahead of you before anything is seriously doesn't regulate. And then we can't afford to address all these things. So then what are we going to do? So a lot of these things fall into the box of that's a policy issue. Evolving policy, Legionella is the same. Then you've got aesthetic issues wherein it's like rashes. And if you go to my flintwaterstudy.org website, if you could just read about rashes, and it's very, very complicated. 90% of rashes go undiagnosed. And how do you know it's coming from the water? How do you know it's not water exacerbated or water genetic interactions or something?

So in Flint, where rashes were high on the list, we were able to show that there was a slightly increased incidence during the water crisis. But in the aftermath, when everyone was still complaining and going crazy about it, they didn't have higher incidence of rashes than anywhere else. And so there's some evidence that the rashes were water related during the crisis, and there's a couple scientific reasons why that might be true.

But after that, those reasons were eliminated. People still were crazy about rashes and thought it was coming from the water. And it might be, but it's not coming from the water at a higher rate than anywhere else. But that kind of issue is, aesthetics are, people see things different, people feel things, different people have their genetics and allergies, and so that's really a tough nut to crack, but sometimes you can make some progress. We had success on that in Flint and Hawaii cases. And then the only one that really gets any traction is if you're breaking the law.

Clelia Sheppard:

Oh, you mean to do tests kind of on your own time sort of thing?

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, no, I mean traction publicly or people care.

Clelia Sheppard:

Oh, I see. Oh, where it's like blatant gross abuse of power or something like that.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah. You have to show that people are heard and preferably, and it's got to be the right demographic for it to get news or assistance. And preferably if minority children are involved, that gets a lot of airtime and I'm glad it does, but if something similar happens in a white rich community, interestingly people don't care as much, but either way, the bottom line is to get-

Clelia Sheppard:

Everyone wants to be politically correct or just kind of be like, I don't know. I think it's sincere, but also, yeah, we should care. We are all one humanity, so we should try to care about it.

Marc Edwards:

[inaudible 00:28:49] rules for everyone, but it's not.

Clelia Sheppard:

I mean it's very interesting this because, see, the reason I even got involved in this housing study thing is because I'm doing a documentary and I wouldn't really call myself an activist. I just wanted to make it because I heard that in my community, people were still going to this farm to fill up water jugs because they couldn't afford to have water.

Marc Edwards:

It's trust, they're probably getting more risk, but yeah, no, but it's trust, it's psychological.

Clelia Sheppard:

And it's, I don't know, there's two prongs to it, to this documentary, is one, how can I get people? At first I thought maybe I'd start a private fundraiser and install wells for people that way, but a lot of people who have the issue don't want to talk about it. And two, then I started to think when I heard this story from a few friends of mine who were saying that they thought they couldn't stand the smell of the water, it smelled disgusting. It was burning their skin. And I was just like, maybe I should have another part to this. I don't want to accuse anyone. Because I actually am working with local people in the government. And I just wanted to find a way to make it kind of like this educational thing that would be just very neutral I guess. But just present the situation.

And I'm just wondering because I feel like I'm the only one that really, I just would love to know how to just get the message across that there's still people here living without water. And also I don't want to, like you were saying earlier, a lot of activists, they're only happy when they see a problem. I'm not looking for that, but I would love to know how I could just do a simple test on this person's house who was saying their skin was burning. Like you said, the aesthetics, he had rashes, and is it just correlated to something else, maybe like the lotion he's using or something. I don't know. But it would just be interesting to know. And I'm just wondering, would you just say go on Amazon and get a simple water testing kit, or is there something you would, I guess I'm almost asking what is the real scientific process behind this that would give the best result?

Marc Edwards:

Well, that's the issue. It requires a massive broad effort. There's no one test, that's for sure. There's not even a hundred tests. And then there's a very little likelihood of success, the only chances you have really, is if there's just a massive outbreak and you just go, okay, this is so statistically anomalous because there's a lot of radical, okay, 90%, as I said, go undiagnosed. So the first thing you want to know before you get involved is what evidence is there that anything here is happening above norms, and how strong is that evidence? You wouldn't even start if you hadn't established that with some pretty high degree of certainty, because medical professionals can't explain rashes.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, I guess, I don't know. I mean, I guess the strong evidence of believing in what someone says like, "Oh, my skin is burning and no, not because the water's too hot, but because... "

Marc Edwards:

Well, that's very important and every individual is a living, breathing experiment, human experiment, and you're unwise to ignore that data because when they're telling you something, that's data, but the number of points is one. And then so the issue is it's again, it's a very common problem. Even the first step of tying it to water, that's probably less than 10, 15% of rashes are related to water.

Clelia Sheppard:

I guess if you said, only when I'm in the shower or only when I wash my hands, that could be a pretty strong...

Marc Edwards:

Yeah but that's, you're heating your body up, you're putting soap on and it tends to exacerbate other things. That's where you notice it too. And then because you've changed the temperature and aggravated it. So in terms of it being a cause rather than an exacerbating factor...

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, it's pretty tough to prove that. I guess even doing one test I'd have to do, you were saying do a hundred of them, and even that wouldn't be enough, would have to be a real study. It would just be so hard to prove.

Marc Edwards:

It's incredibly hard. But yeah, if there's an outbreak and people band together like they did in Hawaii for example, or Flint, I mean you're like, okay, well either all these people are crazy, which is perfectly possible.

Clelia Sheppard:

Well, I could say even in the town of Cape Charles itself, I mean how much, because you were saying earlier the townships or municipalities, they give a decent product for a low price, so we should be at least somewhat satisfied with it, but there is an entire town who basically they just say, "It smells, it looks bad, it tastes horrible."

Marc Edwards:

But that's very common.

Clelia Sheppard:

But that's just normal?

Marc Edwards:

Crappy tasting discolored water, it's all over the place. Nothing illegal about it.

Clelia Sheppard:

Okay.

Marc Edwards:

If you want to get rid of that, you got to pay money. You got to pay money for better pipes and better treatment. We can get rid of all those problems if you want to, but it costs, it costs a lot of money and there's no laws that say everyone has to have water that tastes good.

Clelia Sheppard:

Like from the mountains.

Marc Edwards:

And this doesn't.

Clelia Sheppard:

Okay. I have three questions. Better treatment, is there a model off the top of your head, like a system where it's like, oh, the Hoffmeyer spring, that treatment is the best one. Is there something you could say that would be the paragon of treatment? Even if it costs a lot, what would it be?

Marc Edwards:

Well, sure, it starts with you want the best sourced water available to you. If you've got three options, pick the cleanest one to start with. And then secondly, the regulations are very solid. If you have this, that, or the other thing, you have to treat it in a certain way. And there's a suite of treatments that work. And then people with expertise go in and say, okay, this is kind of the approach we would tailor for this plant. There's many different options to get to the same result, and you kind of do a cost benefit and aesthetic thing, and it's a whole science to doing this. And then you make a proposal and you go with it.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. So there's no one formulaic thing for each place. It kind of is just, yeah.

Marc Edwards:

No. Every system has to be tailored because different economics, different contaminants.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. I guess it could be argued that if there wasn't really a viable source that you shouldn't even build there. But I guess Las Vegas.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, we always do stupid stuff like that.

Clelia Sheppard:

And then for pipes, you're saying even though lead is bad for us and it kills us, that's really our best option really?

Marc Edwards:

No, no. Yeah, you missed the caveat. I said when those pipes were installed, they were the best plumbing material known to humankind except they killed people and poisoned people. So the issue was, people weren't drinking the water as much back then. They just wanted water in their house a hundred years ago for bathing and showering and flushing toilets.

So if you're not drinking it, or you're less concerned about whatever contaminants are in it because you can't even measure it. I mean it's controversial what lead does. Then you can get away with installing lead pipes like the Romans did. But we've gone beyond that now. We have laws that say, henceforth, you shouldn't install lead pipes, but those existing pipes are, we don't know where they are usually, and it will cost probably a hundred billion to just replace the lead pipes if we find them. So it's a huge problem.

Clelia Sheppard:

I'm curious about when all these were installed, I guess in the early 1900s?

Marc Edwards:

[inaudible 00:38:17] to usually 1950 except Chicago who probably continued until 1986.

Clelia Sheppard:

Oh, wow. Okay. So yeah, I guess it would be probably a problem that may not be solved for another hundred years or something or 200. Maybe society by then will have the funds to actually change the whole systems.

Marc Edwards:

Right, right. Yeah. If you wait until they fail, you're going to wait a long time.

Clelia Sheppard:

But if it was the perfect one, it would just be, I don't know. Could it be that even the whole system itself would be completely different? In the future almost you wouldn't even need to go underground.

Marc Edwards:

Every material has its drawbacks. Even our modern materials, people are fitting plastic [inaudible 00:39:06] in the water, they're afraid of copper, people are afraid of cement. There's something that everyone can look at and go, "These are the strengths, these are the weaknesses. Now which one are you going to use?"

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, I don't know. I mean, sometimes I think about what is the outside of a car made out of? It's like poly, what is the car material made out of?

Marc Edwards:

Some are steel, aluminum, there's plastic coatings on the paint.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, plastic. Yeah. I guess maybe it's just something that doesn't really exist yet. Or glass even, glass would be good, but that would break really.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah, that's the problem. Gold would be great, but it's pretty expensive.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. Yeah, gold because has anti-bacterial properties too, right? Or something.

Marc Edwards:

Not really. It's pretty non-reactive, but you're not going to get very far plumbing with gold.

Clelia Sheppard:

So this conversation has just kind of reminded me, I guess, that it's just not one thing. Obviously it's not going to be changed overnight and that it may not even be in any of our lifetimes, but that there are still things we can do to at least be not in that territory of gross abuse of power or neglect like in Flint.

Marc Edwards:

One would hope, yep.

Clelia Sheppard:

So I guess probably should we just do our part individually and make sure that our water is clean with our own systems and expect the worst? And then also-

Marc Edwards:

You're probably okay, but the issue is that folks are cutting corners. All around the country, towns and cities are going bankrupt. Flint was ahead of the curve. And so it's inevitable I think that more people are going to get lied to.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, and I think it was interesting, I heard when you see people fudging reports, how on earth, what are some telltale signs of that? If you have no reference point of what the truth is.

Marc Edwards:

Yeah. And even if you do, they lie for 10 years and by the time you prove that they made up the report, no one gives a damn and they stay on the job and get promoted, and people who called them out get fired.

Clelia Sheppard:

Wow. My real fear is sometimes I wonder if it's like, well, this makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I often wonder if we didn't have so much social media and stuff distracting us all the time, if people would have more energy to get outraged and do stuff about these, I think it's such a merry-go-round of what goes on in D.C. And I don't think anyone has the energy to, they don't care about keeping track of it. It's changing so much, and then every now and then you get a pop of it. When I saw that Gina McCarthy lady was appointed for that position, and then I looked back at what her role was in all of that, and I just think, why is she being depicted as a hero right now? I don't know. It's pretty crazy. And then we have our criminal justice system, which is just basically ruining a lot of innocent people's lives. And it's such a double coin. It really is unfair. It's so sad.

Marc Edwards:

We're humans, we screw stuff up, but every now and then we get something right too.

Clelia Sheppard:

That's true.

Marc Edwards:

We muddle through unless we don't.

Clelia Sheppard:

And also, I don't want to take up too much of your time. I know we're a little bit over, but I just had, I guess the last part of what I wanted to ask you about. I didn't know if in your, because I know you're a scientist, but I didn't know if you had more, I'm sure you do, philosophical aspects to, I've been looking at papers of water as a human right and the idea that if there are people, especially where I live, it's a historically underserved area and there are a lot of little pockets of poverty that people don't really talk about.

And if someone does not have the resources to have what they need, and maybe they are, for instance, there's an elderly man in his 70s who doesn't have heating in his house, doesn't have all these things, and he's kind of abandoned. What are some philosophical or legal frameworks or people to look up to kind of talk about water as a human right or just that we need... Where's the burden of responsibility, and then are we becoming communist if we want to help everybody? That kind of thing.

Marc Edwards:

True. Yeah. It's the left brain, right brain. It's left right politics. Well, I mean it comes down to what do you think is fair for society? And is water a human right? And right now, like it or not, you get the water you can afford. That's how we roll. Education, we decided is universal. Certainly everyone gets enough money to educate their children when they do it or not, or screw it up that's highly local, but plenty of money is provided for education in this country, and healthcare. That's a debate.

And water's really not. You get what you can afford. Now, if you want to change that, then that's fine. And that's a debate people are having when the water is a human right issue. And folks come down on different sides on that and haven't yet decided. But frankly, I've kind become pragmatist wherein I just feel no matter how we roll, it's wrong to tell people their water's safe when it's not. So if you want to tell people you're on your own, fine, do that. Say, "We're poor, we can't afford to meet the law." That's that. But don't pretend that you're doing something and you're treating the water a certain way when you're not.

Clelia Sheppard:

Hello? Oh, okay. Oh, sorry. Okay. So basically a pragmatist in the sense of just people need to do their jobs and we are paying for it, so please do a good job and don't poison us.

Marc Edwards:

Well and don't break the law. Why do we have a law? We all agreed. We had the debate, the debate's over. Follow the damn law, will you please? And personally, I would like to see water is a human right, but there's a whole long list of things I'd like to see and we can't afford half of them, so that's why we vote and decide on what the laws are supposedly.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah, I think maybe people don't realize that there are, pretty much everyone's heard of Flint, but I think that there's still this misconception that people think that everybody has all of their needs met as far as like, oh, you don't have running water in your house? What? That's crazy. That's a problem of another century. And also what really, I don't know, what are some solutions to that? And I guess it would be, like you said, voting for the right people. And I don't know.

Marc Edwards:

Well, it's philosophical. We got to decide.

Clelia Sheppard:

What is a priority.

Marc Edwards:

With water, we have decided. You get the water you can afford. That's it. If you don't like it, change the law. But again, where's all this money going to come from?

Clelia Sheppard:

Well, I just shared on my Facebook the other day, this article on The Hill, it was about Virginia has passed this legislation and something. But it sounds like a really great headline, but then when you read what is an arrears program for people based on their income percentage. And so I just wonder at the end of the day. And also, I don't know if it's actually been passed yet, but at least it's kind of out there, but by the time-

Marc Edwards:

[inaudible 00:48:02].

Clelia Sheppard:

By the time it actually becomes passed, I wonder what are steps for people in different locales? And I'm starting to realize how important it is to just focus on your own local area. Well, I mean for the average citizen, if you're an expert, then yeah, you can do more. But just to, if many people maybe took more interest in just realizing what was going on around them and participating more maybe, I don't know. But yeah, so basically we are still at a level where water is not a human right, but we're headed there hopefully. And we can, I don't know, just is it too demanding of us to say that water is a human right? Or is it just...

Marc Edwards:

Probably because unless you wanted to say it and not live up to it, which we're really good at, it's going to cost a lot of money. And are you going to pay other people's water bills? That sort of comes down to it. Are we going to find the resources for folks who can't afford it to get free water and fix their infrastructure. And that's like a trillion dollar problem.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. Well, I mean we could afford it if we just stopped all other activities like defense stuff and military.

Marc Edwards:

But you can't, people have a long wishlist, right? All the things they'd like to have. And then there's wants, needs, and we're debating about what our needs are, but the wants are at least a hundred times more of than what we can afford.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. Well maybe it will take, I'm hoping with this documentary and with doing this housing study that the right questions are asked and finding the right company to hire to even, you were mentioning earlier how if there's no data available that makes it difficult and that's where you need to start gathering evidence. So it's like we can't really help people, right now, it's just based on hearsay about who does and doesn't have water. But if you can't really truly quantify it and find out where they live and who they are and help them, then it's kind of a difficult process. This has been very helpful for me to realize that it's kind of inch by inch in a way, just really a slow process to understand how to get everyone on the same page.

Marc Edwards:

Excellent. Yeah.

Clelia Sheppard:

Anyway, I thank you for your time. I really appreciate this. I'm sorry if I kind of rambled a little bit, but I feel honored to have spoken with you about this and just I-

Marc Edwards:

Well, likewise. I think the documentaries and informing people about the pluses and minuses and the various points of view, it's the way to go.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. I just wanted to make it an environmental awareness thing and social and get different interviews from people and sort of make it this thing that maybe some kid in high school could watch for, I don't know, just learn a little bit more about the environment and that when you turn on the sink, that it's not just magic. There's a whole lot of work that goes behind it and processes and it's just a complex system. And I think it's good for people to just remember that we can't take anything for granted.

And like you said, everyone has a wish list, but I still am an eternal optimist and I feel like even if we never get there, it's still good to at least strive and hope that everybody is helped. And if they can't, that we should try to set them up for that. If they're mentally ill or elderly or can't afford it or had some hardship, whatever. At least we could at least try. And the goal of it is to increase the number of households with running water. So here on the shore, I think it's like what, maybe 200. And even if it's such a small thing, that would be really great to find some donations even privately, who knows? And just help those people. So every bit of information helps put the puzzle together. So thank you.

Marc Edwards:

Excellent. Well, thank you, and pleasure talking to you.

Clelia Sheppard:

Yeah. All right. Well, have a great day, and thank you.

Marc Edwards:

Okay.

Clelia Sheppard:

Okay.

Marc Edwards:

Take care.

Clelia Sheppard:

Bye.

Marc Edwards:

Bye.

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