Marc Edwards, University Distinguished Professor and the Charles P. Lunsford Professor in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, has been awarded Engineering News-Record’s 2017 Award of Excellence.
Each year, the weekly construction magazine selects 25 Newsmakers nationally to be honored for their contributions to the the industry and the public. The editors of Engineering News-Record then pick the single Newsmaker they feel has made the most significant contribution during the year and honor them with the Award of Excellence.
Edwards was this year’s winner, chosen for his team’s ongoing work in the Flint, Michigan, water disaster, which affected 100,000 residents for more than 18 months.
"In selecting the Award of Excellence winner, we always think about which selection might move the needle and make a difference on an important industry issue. We feel that way about Marc Edwards — both in his fight for safe drinking water and his push for engineers to speak up about danger to public welfare," said Janice L. Tuchman, editor-in-chief of Engineering News-Record.
The honor follows Edwards' past two years of investigative scientific research and public advocacy in Flint, where residents were told by government agencies the murky water coming from their taps was safe to drink. In reality, the water was contaminated by high levels of lead and bacteria, such as legionella, resulting from a decision to switch the city's water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure — without using proper corrosion control.
Edwards, a renowned expert in municipal water quality, along with his water study team, executed an unprecedented independent evaluation of water contamination in residents’ homes, which exposed problems with legionella and lead, vindicated residents’ concerns, and brought national attention to the crisis.
“This award from Engineering News-Record is a tremendous honor that demonstrates yet again how important Marc’s efforts were, not only in helping Flint residents, but also in setting an example for others in the field of civil engineering,” said Sam Easterling, Montague-Betts Professor of Structural Steel Design and head of the Charles Edward Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Edwards' role in uncovering the problem has been widely reported by media from around the world, including The New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, Time, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and Scientific American.
Before Flint, Edwards' investigative science work in the nation’s capital exposed elevated lead in drinking water, copper pinhole leaks, and agency scientific misconduct during the Washington, D.C., lead crisis in 2000-2004 and its aftermath.
Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008. Among his numerous other accolades are the 2010 Praxis Award in Professional Ethics from Villanova University, a 2013 IEEE Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest, a 2016 Smithsonian Institution Innovation Award for Social Progress, and the President’s Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
He was named among the most influential people in the world by Fortune, Time, and Politico, and was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers, all in 2016.
Edwards earned his bachelor’s degree in biophysics from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1986 and master’s and doctoral degrees in environmental engineering at the University of Washington in 1988 and 1991, respectively. He joined Virginia Tech in 1997.
Written by Erica Corder