Exactly what Flint doesn’t need: Mike Adams and his secondhand mass spectrometer

My state is screwed up, and the epicenter of the fallout from the dysfunctional mess that is the Michigan state government is the city of Flint. As you probably recall, around the holidays a story that had previously been mainly a Michigan story broke nationally in a big way. It is the story of how a combination of the imposition of an emergency manager on the city, epic incompetence at the level of the state and local government, and outright denial of a problem for several months by the veyr state agency (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) charged with making sure that things like this don’t happen lead to a truly horrific decline in the quality of tap water in Flint. The CliffsNote version is that in 2014, thanks to a state-imposed emergency manager, the city of Flint its water supply to Flint River water, which was more corrosive. Compounding this problem, the water was not properly treated. So it leeched lead from old lead pipes, leading to high levels of lead in many parts of the city with older pipes, which, not coincidentally, happened to be in the poorer areas of the city. Also as a result, the percentage of Flint children with elevated blood lead levels increased alarmingly. The situation in Flint is serious, the “don’t worry, be happy” dismissals notwithstanding.

Oh, and a lot of people got Legionnaire’s Disease, very likely thanks to the water, and ten of them died.

There were two major heroes in this story. The first was Virginia Tech University researcher Marc Edwards, who in response to a plea from a Flint resident ran his own test on multiple samples of water and was the major voice in the wilderness saying that, hey, this is bad, way worse than what the state government is claiming. Eventually, despite dismissal and attacks by various state officials, Edwards was vindicated. The second hero was a pediatrician at Hurley Hospital named Mona Hanna-Attisha, who carried out the study that found the aforementioned alarming increase in the number of children with elevated lead levels. As a result, she, too, was attacked by the DEQ and the governor’s spokesperson. She persevered, and ultimately she, too, was vindicated. Now national and international attention remains focused on the city, with numerous celebrities and charitable organizations donating bottled water. In the meantime, Governor Snyder and the state government are alternating between blaming the EPA (which, it is true, is not entirely blameless but is not by any means the main culprit here) and dithering about fixing the problem.

So things are still bad in Flint. The water can be used for bathing, but it has still not yet been declared safe to drink, and hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to be required to replace a lot of those old pipes that have probably been permanently damaged and likely to continue to leak lead for a long time even after the water supply was switched back to the non-corrosive Detroit supply, which comes from Lake Huron. What the people of Flint really don’t need is this:

Two citizen scientists who lead a non-profit food and water laboratory in central Texas have teamed up to prevent children across America from being poisoned with lead in municipal water supplies. Forensic food scientist Mike Adams has teamed with a former NASA contract scientist to conduct nationwide scientific analysis of heavy metals in the tap water of U.S. cities.

The effort is being organized by the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center (ConsumerWellness.org), with executive director Mike Adams leading the scientific analysis. Over the next three months, the team plans to test the water of at least 100 large U.S. cities, reporting the results to the public on the website EPAwatch.org.

The water tests are being conducted via ICP-MS using an Agilent 7700x instrument and EPA methodology 200.8. Analysis is sensitive to low parts per billion concentrations for lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, copper and other toxic elements. Results will be published on EPAwatch.org and NaturalNews.com.

Here’s the accompanying video:

It’s amazing how many mistakes are just in the first minute and a half of this video. First, the water supply from the Flint River wasn’t contaminated with lead; the lead contamination came from the higher level of corrosiveness of the Flint River water, which was not properly treated and as a result corroded lead pipes, releasing lead into the water. Second, the water supply to Detroit is not contaminated with lead. Detroit water comes from Lake Huron and is not corrosive. In fact, Flint got its water from the Detroit system for decades before this without a problem. It’s also rather curious that Adams blames the whole thing on the Environmental Protection Agency, when in fact the primary failure was with the Michigan DEQ and those running the local water system. In fact, it was an EPA official, Miguel Del Toral, was a whistleblower who helped bring the story to light. He discovered that Flint wasn’t using proper corrosion control, and his interim report was scathing. As a result, the Michigan DEQ’s spokesperson at the time Brad Wurfel referred to him as a “rogue employee.” Now, it’s true that the EPA’s Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, Del Toral’s boss, apologized for how the report got out to the press, but one notes that she was forced to resign not too long ago. As I said, the EPA was not blameless, but it was far from the main problem. Certainly having Mike Adams “take over the job of the EPA” with what he calls “citizen-scientists” will not be an improvement.

When I learned about the lead crisis in Flint, I figured the quacks would descend. I didn’t predict this, though. I figured that the quacks who would descend on the city would be peddling all sorts of pseudoscientific “detoxification” to rid people of the lead they have ingested. Instead, we have arch quack Mike Adams rushing in to test water for lead, all in the name of…well what it’s in the name of isn’t exactly clear, other than that he apparently hates the EPA. I’m sure it’s also part of his business plan, just as running assays for heavy metals on supplements sold by rivals, which serves an obvious marketing function for him to sell his supplements. In this case, I’m guessing he’ll soon be selling water filters and the like, but this probably also serves Adams’ hyperlibertarian political purpose in demonizing a regulatory agency as big as the EPA and “proving” that he and a bunch of “citizen-scientists” can take over its function.

Another thing about the video and article above is that Adams shows way more of his “laboratory” than he ever has. I haven’t worked in a chemistry lab in a long time, and I haven’t done mass spectroscopy for even longer—decades. So I’m hoping that a reader with analytical chemistry experience who is familiar with mass spectroscopy technique will look at the photos and video and comment. Personally, I know from past activity that Adams is pretty incompetent at science. Oh, sure, he can probably follow the instructions and run the machine, but designing experiments is not as easy as he makes it out to be. For example, Marc Edwards explained in detail how water samples need to be taken and how the DEQ’s and City of Flint’s methodology actually minimized the amount of lead detected.

Now let’s see the instructions Adams gives for collecting water samples:

The Consumer Centers Lab is calling on licensed practitioners of the healing arts, including chiropractors, naturopathic physicians, complementary medicine doctors, TCM and acupuncture practitioners, massage therapists, holistic dentists and others who are licensed by state boards to send in water samples.

Water samples should be sent in Karter Scientific 50mL centrifuge vials. They are inexpensive and can purchased on Amazon.com through a link at EPAwatch.org. Do not send by air. Changes in pressure can cause leaks in vials. Ship or mail your 50 mL water sample to the address below:

CWC Labs
P.O. Box 224
8760 A Research Blvd.
Austin, TX 78758

HERE ARE THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR ACQUIRING A WATER SAMPLE:

  1. Fill the vial completely with water from your sample source (tap water, for example), affix the screw top and shake the vial vigorously. Then pour out the water. This is a rinse.
  2. Fill the vial a second time, all the way to the top. Affix the screw top firmly.
  3. Please write the zip code of the water sample on the lid of the vial, using a permanent marker.
  4. Apply a strong tape around the perimeter of the screw top to create a tighter seal with the vial.
  5. Pack the vial in a padded envelope or a small box. This will help prevent damage during shipping.
  6. Print and fill out the water custody form which you can access here.[PDF] Include it with your water sample shipment.

Adams is calling on chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and all manner of quacks to send him water samples. Yes, I’m sure this will go well. (Yes, that is sarcasm. Good pick up!)

There’s also the issue of how the water samples are collected. One concern is that the water samples will not be random, coming as they will from quacks and people who are aware of Mike Adams. For instance, a mere 1,000 samples from all over the country would be highly unlikely to produce enough water samples from any one city to produce a statistically valid picture of the situation in that city. It took Marc Edwards more than 250 samples just from Flint to show the alarming results that he did, and Edwards was very careful to try to make sure his sampling was as scientifically valid as possible. He supplied collection kits. He provided detailed instructions to citizens on how to collect water samples, along with an instructional video. Ironically, Adams instructions are likely to underestimate the amount of lead in water. (Shhh. Don’t tell him!)

Let’s just put it this way. Citizen science can produce useful results, but it has to be guided by actual scientists, like Marc Edwards, not by epically incompetent quacks like Mike Adams. Mike Adams might have a nearly empty laboratory with a little bit of equipment in it and a (probably) used mass spectrometer, but that doesn’t make him a scientist. He’s proven that time and time again. Perhaps the most hilarious example is when he put some McDonalds Chicken McNuggets under the microscope and was, to my great amusement, shocked to learn that they looked very different under the microscope. In a bit of comedy gold, he took his results to Alex Jones. As for his mass spectrometer, Adams has used it to measure—whether accurately or not, who knows?—heavy metals in rivals’ supplements. In a particularly risible bit of wasting a perfectly good piece of scientific equipment, Adams turned his mad mass spec skillz on a vial of flu vaccine containing thimerosal and was shocked—shocked, I tell you!—that it contained a lot of mercury compared to, say, tap water, labeling it as 25,000 times the maximum allowed by the EPA. In reality, he found roughly the same amount of mercury as the vaccine manufacturer says is in there.

Given his epic incompetence at anything resembling science, his conspiracy theories, and his sheer opportunism, Mike Adams is the last thing Flint needs.