Marc Edwards, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, has been awarded the Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Society on Social Implications of Technology.

The award honors a tireless, years long effort to expose safety and quality problems in United States’ public drinking water supplies, specifically in Washington, D.C.  The award, founded in 1978 and given out only 11 times since, honors exemplary ethical behavior/practices and/or persuasive advocacy or promotion of ethical behavior/practices.

“I am humbled to receive the Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest, and I accept it in recognition of several dozen individuals who teamed with and/or supported me during this journey,” Edwards said, specifically thanking his wife, Jui-Ling, and children, Ethan, and Ailene; the late Ralph Scott, a policy and outreach coordinator for the advocacy group, Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives; and Yanna Lambrinidou, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region campus.

While researching metropolitan water distribution systems, Edwards found that many homes in the nation’s capital were receiving water contaminated with lead leached from city pipes to an extent far exceeding acceptable industry levels. The amount of lead in the water likely put several thousand people, especially children, at risk, yet government agencies used faulty data and analysis to hide the risks, the institute said.

Sometimes paying expenses and student researchers out of his own pocket, and harnessing the expertise and efforts of consumers affected by the high lead in water, Edwards was able to discredit a Center for Disease and Control report that, according to the institute, “encouraged water suppliers all over the nation to underestimate the problem of lead in drinking water.”

“For more than a decade on this project, Marc Edwards demonstrated courageous, persistent, unselfish dedication to the public welfare,” said Steve Unger, ethics committee chairman for the Society on Social Implications of Technology.

The award will be presented to Edwards in the fall.

Edwards received his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Washington. In 2008, he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and in 2010, he received the Praxis Award in Professional Ethics, among dozens of other awards and accolades.

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