New Flint lab aimed at rebuilding community trust in water

FLINT, Michigan -- Since the Flint Water Crisis began in 2014, the city of Flint has replaced thousands of lead service lines in the city. But the long-term damage done to residents’ ability to trust governmental institutions and infrastructure in the city is not as easy to fix and could take generations to fully repair.


A new community lab space at the Flint Development Center is meant to start giving residents more trust and confidence in the water that comes out of their taps.


The McKenzie Patrice Croom Flint Community Lab was opened in Flint on October 9, and represents a partnership between scientific and community organizations that will allow residents to test their water for lead, copper, and other contaminants.


“That’s what we’re all about, giving them (residents) the power to take care of their own issues,” said Shelly Sparks, executive director of the Flint Development Center.


The community-based lab is operated in partnership with Freshwater Future, an organization that supports community-based groups working to protect and restore land and water resources in the Great Lakes regions. It’s purpose is to provide Flint residents with a source for free water testing, information, and other resources to provide independent, verifiable information directly to the community.


We’re trying to re-establish a level of trust, and this lab will help restart the community on a great pathway to success,” said Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley.


The lab features state-of-the-art testing technology and also serves as an educational resource. It is staffed by a team of student scientists, staff members, and community members.


“We listened to the youth, the elders, and a whole host of residents who told us we had to make this multi-generational,” said Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future.”The youth are at the forefront of this program because they’re the future not only of Flint, but of the world. We want to do things to help people trust their water again. (Flint residents) didn’t create this problem, but residents are extremely resilient, and we knew a solution had to come from the residents. This is a citizen science project. As the systems heal, we want residents to have trust in their individual tap.”


Funders of the lab include the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Cedar Tree Foundation, CPI International, Consumers Energy, Freshwater Future, Crown Foundation, Hagerman Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Nalgene Water Fund, Ruth Mott Foundation, TCF Bank, and Donors to Patronicity/Online Fundraiser.


“This center and lab exist because of the community champions who knew residents needed a mechanism for building trust,” said Raquel Thueme, president of the Ruth Mott Foundation. “This lab is about engaging youth, innovation and excellence, residents and scientists coming together, and at the heart, it’s about community members looking out for each other.”


Community partners include the city of Flint, Flint Development Center, Freshwater Future, Genesee County Latino Hispanic Collaborative, Flint Neighborhoods United, University of Michigan Biological Station, and the University of Michigan-Flint Biochemistry Department.


“At the Mott Foundation, we’ve said since early days (of the water crisis), that the biggest challenge would be rebuilding trust,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation. “Today is an important step on the journey back for Flint residents being able to trust the water flowing into their homes. I am most inspired by seeing wonderful young people who want to be a part of restoring trust in our community. The work you’re doing is so important.”

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.

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