Turning the tap on without fear

Turning the taps on without fear

Going a step beyond means returning hope to the community of Flint, Michigan.

Bathing your child. Drinking a glass of water. Even brushing your teeth with tap water is no longer possible for the community of Flint, Michigan. “It can’t be done,” says Michael Harris, founder of The McKenzie Patrice-Croom Flint Community Lab.

In 2014, the city of Flint failed to treat its water with corrosion inhibitors, resulting in lead leeching out of the water pipes and into the water that supplied the homes of tens of thousands of people. The consequences were devastating. Once lead enters your system, it stays in your blood for around two weeks, before seeping into your bones and brain, where it can cause neurological disorders, behavioral issues in children, and sterilization and miscarriages in women. “What happened in Flint was a huge breakdown of trust,” Candice Mushatt, head of the Flint Community Lab, explains. “We needed a way to restore the trust in our water and we needed a way for our residents to be empowered.”

And so, the Flint Community Lab was born.

An old school was converted into a lab and high school students in 10th through 12th grade, as well as 4th and 5th year college students studying chemistry, were invited to become part of the initiative. With the help of Thermo Fisher Scientific, who donated an ICP-MS machine and sample bottles, these young STEM students are now able to collect water samples from homes, bring them to the lab and then use the ICP-MS machine to test the water for lead, copper, and other contaminants. “ICP is not an easy technique to use,” says Jerry Holycross, “and I’m very proud of the students to be able to embrace this technology.”

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“One of the most beautiful things about what we’re doing here is we’re training the next generation of lab technicians and chemists… we’re giving them hands-on experience to say, ‘yes, you can do it. This is your training ground. Now go and save the rest of the country!’”

Candice Mushatt

For the community of Flint, the lab has not only become a beacon of hope and pride, but it’s also giving the lifeforce that is water back to the community and helping them rebuild the connection that was lost all those years ago. To date, the Flint Community Lab has tested over 600 homes, with the hope of reaching 2,000 by the end of the year. But for Michael and his team, this is just the beginning. “Together we’re going to make the world a better place. That’s a fact.”

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