“The whole idea of corrosion control is more of an art than a science”
— Lloyd Stowe, P.E., Chief of Plant Operations, Washington Aqueduct
What does it mean when a professional engineer and chief of plant operations attributes controlling a scientific phenomenon (i.e., corrosion) to being outside the realm of science? Perhaps he means that even when one thinks he/she knows all there is to know about corrosion, there are so many contributing factors that it is likely some things can be overlooked. Perhaps he means corrosion control goes beyond what is rational or scientific, as others attribute to something that is an “art.” Perhaps it is a matter of perspective – a scientist in 2018 may indeed view corrosion control as a science, as research advances and having been able to learn from the past mistakes. In this case, learning from mistakes often comes at the cost of a threat to public welfare.
I can only hope that Stowe made this statement as a way to reassure the public that while the team at the Washington Aqueduct did the best they can to make a decision that would minimize one issue, there were unintended consequences they were unable to avoid because corrosion control is so massive. On the other hand, as someone who has concern for the victims of the DC Lead Crisis, it is hard to not see this as an excuse. I cannot help but to translate this as “corrosion control is an art, and I am not an artist.”
I see this as a lesson to be learned about how vital it is to be open and truthful with clarity – not to use language that can be vague or abstract. To not allow for misinterpretation, as a means to value one’s social contract as an engineer.