Community Water Lab Opens in Flint, Michigan
A Vessel for Change: How a Reusable Bottle is Helping Rebuild Community Trust
Nalgene Outdoor and Thermo Fisher Scientific donate equipment and funds integral to opening the Flint Community Water Lab, a first-of-its kind collaboration between science and community to ensure clean drinking water.
ROCHESTER, N.Y — How does an iconic reusable bottle, known widely in the great outdoors, find its way as a catalyst to change in a city ravaged by a water crisis? Like many Nalgene adventures, it comes back to life’s everyday simple basics and the fundamental right for access to clean water.
In August 2019 Nalgene established the Nalgene Water Fund committed to raising awareness that clean water is a domestic issue, not just an issue that impacts “third-world” countries. For its first donation installment, Nalgene selected the McKenzie Patrice Croom Water Lab , more commonly referred to as the “Flint Community Water Lab,” a creation between the Flint Development Center and non-profit Freshwater Future. The Flint Community Water 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 have donated nearly $650,000 to the Flint Community Water Lab in state-of-the-art laboratory instruments, critical funding and reusable bottles used for both water sample collection and continued use at home.
Flint Community Youth Drive Change
At the heart of this donation, however, are the people of Flint, Michigan. In particular, its community youth who are committed to building bridges of trust among elders by going door to door to collect water samples to then be tested at the Community Water Lab. This past summer, despite Covid-19, seven Flint-area youth, all of whom are still in high school and three Michigan-based college students interested in STEM kicked off the program with a goal to test 21,000 Flint households in three years.
• The premise is simple: water is collected by students or in drop-off boxes with Nalgene bottles; then tested at the Community Lab, which has an arena for residents to watch testing in process.
• Community members have the knowledge that their tap water is safe. Or, if the tested water doesn’t clear for safety, the testing program includes support to provide a path to clean drinking water (such as filters), as well as other social and emotional counseling resources.
Active Participation Leads to Simple, Safe Water Testing
“This idea was born in 2018 with a pilot program that reached 170 homes in Flint in just six weeks,” says Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future. “Community leaders helped us realize that the key to developing trust was through a multigenerational approach including training and education for youth who could then pass that information along to adults in the process of testing homes for current lead levels.”
Shelly Sparks, director of the Flint Development Center, adds “Having a lab that is based in Flint, operated by Flint residents, with the purpose of serving Flint residents, and embracing the resilience of Flint residents to keep working to solve their problems is amazing and couldn’t have happened without the donations from Nalgene and Thermo Fisher Scientific.”
Thermo Fisher Scientific’s donation includes more than $250,000 of industry-leading [mass spectrometry] instruments for detecting and analyzing toxic elements in drinking water and on-site training. Through a match with The Nalgene Water Fund, an additional $40,000 was gifted to fund student stipends and critical community services in the Flint area, plus 21,000 Nalgene bottles to be used to collect and test water; and then refill and reuse once drinking water is determined safe. Those involved in creating the Community Water Lab hope that it becomes a model program for other communities looking to build trust between residents and local water supply.
“I can’t think of a better way for Nalgene and its ‘born from science’ roots to be in communities,”
says Elissa McGee, general manager, Nalgene Outdoor. “The promise of refilling a reusable water bottle to reduce single use plastic waste starts with the basic premise – and human right – that a local water source is safe to drink. We are thrilled that the Nalgene Water Fund can help support such efforts as the Flint Community Water Lab and help educate communities for long-term change.”
Support Domestic Water Issues
$5 of sales of each bottle go toward the Nalgene Water Fund and supporting U.S. domestic communities that struggle with access to clean drinking water.Nalgene Water Fund