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Flint water leaders Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards to deliver University Commencement address

April 17, 2016

Marc Edwards and Mona Hanna-Attisha
Virginia Tech's Marc Edwards, at left, and Michigan State University's Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Professor Marc Edwards, two of the key individuals who exposed widespread lead-in-water contamination in Flint, Michigan, last year will address Virginia Tech’s Class of 2016 during University Commencement exercises on May 13 at Lane Stadium/Worsham Field.

The University Commencement ceremony will begin at 8:30 a.m. More than 5,000 graduates and their families and friends are expected to attend.

“Mona and Marc are true heroes in every sense of the word,” noted Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Their work, their research, and their teaching profoundly impacted the lives of thousands of Flint residents, especially the children who were exposed to extremely high levels of lead contamination in their drinking water. 

“As our students prepare to make their mark in an ever-changing world, Mona and Marc wonderfully illustrate what graduates of 21st century land grant universities can become and what they can accomplish — they can apply their studies and research to critical real-world issues, grounded in a commitment to serve the broader community.”

Hanna-Attisha is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and director of the Pediatric Residency program at Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint. She now directs the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, an innovative and model public health program to research, monitor, and mitigate the impact of lead in Flint’s drinking water.

Edwards is the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and a nationally renowned expert on municipal water quality. In 2007, Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow because of his work in ensuring the safety of drinking water and in exposing deteriorating water-delivery infrastructure in America's largest cities.

In early 2015, the children of Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters suffered illnesses and rashes that were becoming alarmingly common across the Michigan city. To defend the health of her children and others, Walters reached out to Environmental Protection Agency water expert Miguel Del Toral and Edwards, whom she discovered online because of his work on water quality issues in Washington, D.C.

After testing with Virginia Tech, Walters learned that her tap water had extremely high levels of lead.

In conjunction with Flint citizen activists, Edwards and a team of Virginia Tech students and researchers coordinated a comprehensive city-wide sampling effort of 277 homes last fall. The Virginia Tech water team concluded that Flint’s water suffered from serious lead contamination as well as bacteria problems, including Legionella.

At about the same time and inspired by Edwards’ work, independent research by Hanna-Attisha discovered higher rates of elevated lead levels in Flint children. 

The combined efforts and discoveries by both Edwards’ and Hanna-Attisha’s teams brought national and international attention to the dangers facing Flint residents. 

In January, both Hanna-Attisha and Edwards were appointed members of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, which seeks long-term solutions to Flint’s water system.

Hanna-Attisha received her bachelor’s degree in environmental health and a Master of Public Health degree in health management and policy from the University of Michigan and her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She completed her residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, where she was chief of pediatric residency. 

Edwards came to Virginia Tech from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where, in 1996, the National Science Foundation selected him as one of only 20 young engineering faculty in the nation to receive a Presidential Faculty Fellowship. He completed his master's degree and Ph.D. in environmental engineering at the University of Washington and earned his bachelor's degree in bio-physics from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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