Flint Community Lab Accelerates Efforts for Residential Water Testing

Q&A With Director Candice Mushatt

In August 2019 Nalgene established the Nalgene Water Fund committed to raising awareness that equitable access to clean water is a domestic issue, not just an issue that impacts “third-world” countries. For its first donation, in late 2020, Nalgene Outdoor selected the McKenzie Patrice Croom Water Lab, more commonly referred to as the “Flint Community Lab,” a creation between the Flint Development Center and non-profit Freshwater Future. The Flint Community Lab is a first-of-its-kind, community-built and operated lab that will, over the course of three years, provide free water testing to all households in Flint, Michigan, a community still reeling from its 2014 water crisis. 

Thermo Fisher Scientific and Nalgene Outdoor donated nearly $650,000 to the Flint Community Lab in state-of-the-art laboratory instruments, critical funding and reusable bottles used for both water sample collection and continued use at home. This donation includes a total of 21,000 Nalgene bottles over the three years to be used to collect and test water; and then refill and reuse once the drinking water is determined safe.

The Lab’s guiding principle is for the community, by the community. High school and college students take a multi-generational approach to go door-to-door to collect water samples from homes that are then tested in the Lab. The Lab even has a viewing area for Flint residents to watch the testing! 

With summer — and a new crop of interns — joining the Lab, Nalgene recently delivered 1,500 more bottles to the Flint Community Lab to aid in the Lab’s commitment to meet or exceed 500 sample collections per month. 

“We use the Nalgene bottles to collect samples from residents, churches and businesses. Nalgene provides 100% of the bottles used in our sample collection, so the best way to describe them would be the "backbone" of our field work.”

Candice Mushatt, director, Flint Community Lab

Nalgene Outdoor: Hi! And welcome to this position! As we work through the otherside of this Covid pandemic, what major initiatives is the Flint Community Lab pursuing?

Candice Mushatt: We are looking forward to the summer months, more people will be outside, there is a certain comfort level that comes with open air as opposed to enclosed spaces, so we will reach more residents at events or on their front porch.  We are looking to meet and exceed our 500 (sample collection) per month goal, in July we will be launching a campaign to do just that.

Nalgene Outdoor: Where are you in your goal to test all 21,000 homes in Flint?

Candice Mushatt: Unfortunately, Covid has slowed down some of our timing, so we are still at what feels like the beginning of the process — currently at just under 3,000 homes. That said, we have a plan in place to use the summer and outdoor months, as well as a more sustainable model for the winter months, to continue to make significant progress to test every residential home in Flint.

Nalgene Outdoor: How many local high school students are you currently working with and what are there roles and responsibilities?

Candice Mushatt: We are currently interviewing our next group of high school students, in Flint/Michigan the school year is coming to a close. We are in the process of recruiting new students and will have 5 or  6 new students working with us all summer starting at the end of June.

Nalgene Outdoor: What is the most impactful way in which the Flint Community Lab supports its local community?

Candice Mushatt: The Flint Community Lab is important for Flint residents because it is a stand alone lab, we are not connected to any governmental entity, so it has become a trusted source for residents that are still very skeptical of information coming from the government. The Lab was founded by Flint residents, it is run by Flint residents and we offer internships to Flint and surrounding area students. This adds to the credibility of the Lab. When you have people who not only work here, but live here and are also affected by the crisis, it gives you a sense of confidence in the integrity of the lab.

We are them and they are us.

Nalgene Outdoor: What are you most excited about in year two of this program?

Candice Mushatt: In addition to finally getting back out there and on pace with our goals to help provide transparency and trust for Flint residents with resources from within the community, the new media lab! This is a collaboration between The Flint Development Center, The Flint Community Lab, We the People of Detroit and Freshwater Futures. We are so excited about this addition! To further build ties with the community and show total transparency, we are able to broadcast live over multiple streaming platforms right from inside the lab. We also have a robot, ROVY, that we can send a temporary link to users and they are able to control it and tour the lab from wherever they are in the world!

A student helps ROVY offer a tour to those outside the Lab.

Help support U.S. cities in water crisis

Looking for ways to support Flint and other communities in their plight for safe and reliable water? $5 from each sale of a limited-edition Nalgene Water Fund bottle goes toward these initiatives.

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