Flint water crisis likely the cause of deadly Legionnaires outbreak

Edwards is the independent Virginia Tech researcher who found lead in Flint’s drinking water back in 2015, when state officials still denied it was leeching into the water supply.

The engineering professor says he recreated the crisis in his lab this winter and found that the corrosive water created an environment where bacteria could flourish.

“What we discovered was that when the Flint River water went into the system it released a lot of iron, and removed the disinfectant from the water,” Edwards said. “And in combination, those two factors, the iron as a nutrient and the disinfectant disappearing, allowed legionella to thrive in buildings where it could not do so previously.”

Flint’s water crisis happened because state officials made a temporary switch in the water supply and did not properly treat the water with an anti-corrosive agent. That decision caused the harsh water to eat away at the pipes as it traveled to homes. Lead pipes leeched lead into the water, poisoning hundreds. Iron pipes leeched iron, Edwards said – and created the conditions for the Legionnaires outbreak.

“The triggering event was very clearly the use of Flint River water without any corrosion control,” Edwards said.

“Had the corrosion control been in the water, disinfectant would have been higher, iron would have been lower, probably the outbreak would not have occurred.”

Investigations into the outbreak

Edwards’ experiment compared bacteria levels of corrosive Flint water in his lab to levels in properly treated water in Detroit. He has been studying what happened in Flint since before the crisis was even acknowledged by the state of Michigan. Edwards predicted during the water crisis that a lack of corrosion control could lead to a Legionnaires outbreak.

“It was only later that we realized that one was, it just wasn’t public knowledge,” Edwards told CNN.

Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory bacterial infection usually spread through mist that comes from a water source; it isn’t spread…

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