Water Safety: A Failure to Learn From Past Lessons | APEGA

Water Safety: A Failure to Learn From Past Lessons

When you use them all, a lot of post-nominal letters follow the name of APEGA President Steve E. Hrudey, P.Eng., FEC, FGC (Hon.), FCAE, FSRA, FSRC, IWAF, PhD, DSc (Eng). Many of them stem from the fact that he wrote the book on water safety — or books, actually. He and his wife, Elizabeth J. Hrudey, are the authors of two books that examine cases of drinking water contamination in developed nations, and the lessons to be learned from each outbreak.

Dr. Steve E. Hrudey, P.Eng.

APEGA President Dr. Steve E. Hrudey, P.Eng., is in high demand — and not only because of the elected APEGA position he holds. In June, he was a keynote speaker at the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Annual Conference and Exposition, held in Chicago.

So it’s not surprising that Dr. Hrudey was invited to be a keynote speaker at the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Annual Conference and Exposition in June. Held in Chicago this year, the conference typically attracts nearly 11,000 water professionals.

A world-renowned expert on drinking water safety, Dr. Hrudey was asked to share his perspective on a timely topic: the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Officials in the state are accused of covering up evidence of lead contamination in the city’s wa­ter supply, which was caused by corrosive river water running through aging pipes. The scandal has resulted in criminal charges against local and state officials. Tragically, thousands of residents suffered long-term exposure to lead.

Addressing about 50 attendees at an invitation-only general managers’ dinner, Dr. Hrudey pointed out that the crisis could have been prevented. “There was a colossal failure to apply knowledge that we already have — in spades; to recognize that doing what was done — or not done — could and ultimately did result in a public health disaster,” he told the audience.

He compared the crisis in Flint to the water contamination tragedy in Walkerton, Ont., in May 2000, which killed seven peo­ple and made thousands ill. In both cases, he said, the inability of officials to perform competently was the primary driver of disas­ter. He advised attendees to take note of what happened in Flint, because it could happen in their community, too.

“You need to help decision-makers understand that providing safe, high-quality drinking water is a knowledge-intensive un­dertaking. It cannot be done successfully without a fundamental commitment to excellence,” said Dr. Hrudey.

Dr. Hrudey was a member of the Research Advisory Panel for the resulting Walkerton Inquiry and has served on several expert panels on safe drinking water. He received the top AWWA research award in 2012, at the time only the second Canadian to receive the award since it was established in 1967.