FLINT, Michgan—The Flint Development Center on Martin Luther King Avenue will become the headquarters of the community-led water testing operation called the Community Water Lab. It’s meant to empower and educate Flint families by giving them access to free water testing and the knowledge necessary for the comfortable use of public water.
“We’re going to test soil, lead, all kinds of minerals, anything that can affect your water and we also will be testing PFAS,” said Shelly Sparks, director of the FDC. “We’re going to have a whole plan for families if they come back testing positive."
Set to open Feb. 28, the CWL comes as the result of a partnership between the Evergreen Community Development Initiative, which purchased the building where the Flint Development Center is housed, and Freshwater Future, an organization dedicated to keeping the waters of the Great Lakes region clean.
In 2020, the lab aims to provide water tests for at least 7,000 families as well as layout water safety plans for 200 Shelly Sparks, director of the Flint Development Center, stands inside the Community Water Lab's future testing room set to open in February.families and refer 1,000 more to municipal services.
While heavily focused on the current state of water in Flint, the CWL has a dual mission of youth STEM education and engagement.
“This exposure to the basics of chemistry and water science provides strong opportunities for students to understand the importance of STEM fields and drive interest in educational opportunities that can improve outcomes for other communities that may face similar challenges in the future,” said Sparks.
These youth would then work side-by-side with a network of researchers and chemists from University of Michigan-Flint to test water samples and advise families on the state of their water.
The lab itself will be made up of two interconnected rooms dedicated to housing the equipment necessary for testing both water and people for unhealthy levels of lead. Down the hall, a multimedia room where members of the community will receive test results and consultations is expected to be finished a few months after the lab’s opening in February.
The CWL will offer free tests to individuals in Flint and Genesee County for the first three years. After 2023, the lab will make its tests commercially available to businesses. According to Sparks, this will allow the lab to pay for itself.
The lab has raised about $300,000 for both construction and operation. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation recently donated $70,000 for first year’s operations. The rest, Sparks said, comes from anonymous donors.
“Our focus on empowerment will help Flint residents begin to feel like they can move forward again in the city safely, instead of seeking any way possible to leave,” said Sparks.
As tests are distributed and families are educated, it is the FDC’s hope that individuals will once again be able to start trusting that the water inside their own homes won’t hurt them.