Virginia Tech professor, Flint research team make Time’s Person of the Year shortlist

Local News

A Virginia Tech professor and his research team have made the shortlist for Time magazine’s Person of the Year for their work uncovering the Flint, Mich. water crisis. 

Time magazine announced its shortlist of 11 finalists on Monday, which includes the “Flint whistleblowers,” consisting of local residents, Virginia Tech civil engineering professor Marc Edwards and Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, as well as their research team. 

As Edwards and his team continue testing the water in Flint, being among the finalists for Time’s Person of the Year was something none of them ever expected.

“We were just doing the job we were born to do,” Edwards said. 

Prior to the Flint water crisis, Edwards helped uncover lead contamination in drinking water in Washington, D.C. from 2001 to 2004.

Years later, his team would receive a call from a mother named LeeAnne Walters, who said her child was lead-poisoned by Flint’s drinking water. Edwards then teamed up with Dr. Hanna-Attisha to lead a team of at least 45 researchers to explore the problem.

“It’s a very tight-knit group, and you won’t find any of them claiming that they’re the hero here because we were really just doing our job in fighting for the health of Flint kids,” Edwards said. 

Edwards’s team recently wrapped up a fourth round of testing water from Flint. While the situation has improved, bottled water and filters are still recommended for the people who live there, he said. 

“Flint’s now kind of at the end of the public health disaster, that the water is now relatively safe, certainly after the lead filters, but what’s happened is we discovered lead problems all around the country,” Edwards said. 

Edwards’s work has taken him to other cities like Fresno, Calif. experiencing similar issues. He said he hopes this experience persuades cities across the country to get their lead pipes out of ground.

Edwards said he has not heard from Time magazine since the shortlist of finalists was announced, but he believes the recognition truly belongs to the people of Flint. 

“It’s really the Flint residents, as exemplified by LeeAnne Walters, who deserve the cover if there is one,” he said. 

Time’s Person of the Year will be announced on Wednesday, according to the magazine.

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