Community Science: Training the Next Generation to Protect our Water

It’s been 7 years since the nation first learned about the Flint Water Crisis.

In April of 2014 the city of Flint, under emergency management by the state of Michigan, left the Detroit Water and Sewage Department and switched to the Flint River as its primary drinking water supply.

Shortly after the switch, residents noticed a significant difference in the taste, smell, and color of their water; the start of a seven-year, ongoing, battle to fix Flint.

The National Wildlife Federation worked with Flint Leaders to ensure that the voices of those affected by this man-made crisis were heard.

The Next Generation Providing Hope

The Flint Community Water Lab—the first community-based laboratory of its kind in the world—provides Flint residents with a trusted resource for free water testing for lead and other metals and PFAS/PFOS.

The Flint Lab is operated and run by high school and college students, providing important education and community science opportunities that promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, exposure to technical career opportunities, and workforce development. The lab was designed to promote public health and healing while restoring public confidence in tap water in individual homes.

With the support of former Flint Mayor, Dr. Karen Weaver, the current Interim Director of the African American Mayors Association, students from the lab were able to put their newfound skills to the test at Flint City Hall during their pilot program in the summer of 2019.

“What the students are learning at the Flint Community Lab is important,” Weaver said. “They are learning to take charge of their futures and use their voices, they are learning the importance of community science and community involvement. The African American Mayors Association is committed to keeping their voices lifted and introducing this concept to communities around the country.”

Hope for Communities Around the Country

Students from the Flint Community Lab with the Director of the lab, Michael Harris, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and Congressman Dan Kildee. Photo by Candice Mushatt.

EPA administrator Michael Regan recently toured the testing facility and spoke with the students in the lab.

“Looking at the technical capabilities here to test water as good as any third party, and having it done by young people who are residents of this community — that’s an idea that we need to see all around this country,” Regan said. “Flint, Michigan isn’t the only community struggling with water quality issues or trusting those who are responsible for delivering good, clean drinking water.”

The Community Lab, which officially opened on March 25, 2020, has tested over 100 homes in the community. The students hope to make the Flint Community Water Lab so successful that other cities will give students the same opportunity to embrace community science and take control of their futures.