Edwards, a world-renowned water expert, gained international praise for his ongoing work in investigating iron and lead corrosion found in the water of Flint, Michigan, Which affected 100,000 residents for more than 18 months.
Edwards received the award Feb. 21 at the Borchardt Conference, a Triennial Symposium on Advancements in Water and Wastewater Treatment at the University of Michigan, in recognition of his contributions to the fields of water treatment and public health and to society at large.
At the conference, Edwards delivered a lecture, “Sustainable Water Distribution Systems of the Future: Fixing Old Mistakes and Avoiding New Ones.”
“I am humbled to accept the recognition on behalf of the many graduate students and colleagues at Virginia Tech that I have been privileged to work with over the years, as we solved practically important problems that affect normal people,” said Edwards.
Colleagues that Edwards acknowledged were instrumental in Flint include: Amy Pruden, the W. Thomas Rice Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering; Joe Falkinham, professor of biological sciences in the College of Science; Annie Pearce, associate professor for building construction in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; the Flint water study team; and science collaborators LeeAnne Walters and Mona Hanna-Attisha.
“Never let it be said that a small group of dedicated people cannot change the world in a small and positive way,” said Edwards, “in this case, by helping to provide water that is safe for bathing, drinking, and cooking to many communities underserved by science.”
The Borchardt-Glysson Water Treatment Innovation Prize is awarded to an individual whose accomplishments in the water or wastewater treatment fields have been nationally and internationally recognized.
After being contacted directly by Walters, a concerned mother of two who lived in Flint, Edwards and his water study team helped residents conduct an unprecedented survey of water contamination in residents’ homes, with a 90 percent return rate. The survey results indicated high levels of lead and bacteria, such as Legionella, in the water supply, contradicting government reports that claimed the murky water was safe.
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. More than a decade before making headlines in Flint, Edwards exposed water-quality issues related to pinhole leaks in copper pipes and lead in drinking water of the Washington, D.C., area.
Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008. Among his numerous other accolades are the H.P. Eddy Award from the Water Pollution Control Federation, the 2010 Praxis Award in Professional Ethics from Villanova University, and a Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize 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.
— Submitted by Lindsey Haugh