By Lauren Rearick
It’s been 1,774 days since the city of Flint, Michigan, has had drinkable water, and now Jaden Smith is helping residents affected by the crisis.
On Saturday (March 2), the actor’s company, Just Goods, donated a portable water filtration system to Flint’s First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church called the Water Box, which mirrors the system Just uses to bottle its own Just Water, Michigan Live reports. The box was created in collaboration with the church and Smith’s mother, Jada Pinkett-Smith, said she would also be donating a second Water Box to the city.
“We don’t want to disrupt what’s happening with the donation of bottled water to Flint,” Smith told those assembled at the box’s unveiling. “We just want to be the backbone in case something happens to that supply of donated bottled water.”
As Catrina Tillman, first lady of First Trinity tells MTV News, the has passed out free bottled water to Flint residents since 2014, but recently experienced a decrease in donations. “We had to go from giving out water five days a week, down to three days a week,” she explains. “ We have to turn away a lot of residents simply because we don’t have the water supply to give out like we once did,” she says. She hopes that the arrival of the Water Box, which processes up to 10 clean gallons of water per minute, can change that.
As NPR reports, the Flint water crisis started in 2014, when city officials decided to stop using water provided by Lake Huron and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSA) in lieu of a pipeline that would be built to connect Flint to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA).
Since the pipeline would take an estimated 25 years to complete, Flint made a switch to temporarily use the Flint River as its water source. The city’s then-mayor, Dayne Walling, celebrated the move as “a historic moment for the city of Flint to return to its roots and use our own river as our drinking water supply.”
However, a study later discovered that the river water contained chloride and was causing lead to leak from the pipes into the water supply that residents were drinking and using. Water with lead is particularly dangerous to children, causing possible developmental delays, comas, and even death. The city later switched back to Lake Huron for its water supply, but it’s believed that more than 100,000 people were potentially affected by the water.
Since 2016, Flint has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency to improve their water pipelines and distribute free bottled water, CNN reports. However, the free bottled water program was terminated in 2018 by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who argued that the water was now “well within standards,” CNN reports. Many residents disagreed, including current Flint mayor Karen Weaver, who argued in a statement published by Detroit Free Press that “free bottled water should be provided to the people of Flint until the last-known lead-tainted pipe has been replaced.”
As Tillman tells MTV News, sourcing enough water bottles for residents is an ongoing challenge. Enter Smith and Drew Fitzgerald, the founders of Just Goods, who offered their help to First Trinity. “They heard of the work that we have been doing and they wanted to see how they could help our water mission,” she says. After a collective brainstorm with organizations that included Just Goods, First Trinity, Black Millennials for Flint and 501C3, it was decided to bring a portable water box to Flint.
The Water Box features a filtration system that cleans water of potentially unsafe drinking materials, including lead. Additionally, an off-site testing lab conducts continual testing of the box’s water and results are posted online.
Krystina White, chief operating officer of Black Millennials for Flint, tells MTV News that many in the community continue to rely solely on water bottles. “[They’re] are great, but they harm the environment and are not sustainable,” she said. “How many water bottles can you give to a family of four to shower with, eat with, and cook with? It gets to be kind of impossible. This Water Box is kind of revolutionary in that people can come just once and take ten gallons of water home.”
Tillman notes that the church will continue to provide some water bottles, but she hopes the Water Box can “eradicate” the need for them. Eventually, the organizations would like to bring additional Water Boxes to Flint. In the meantime, they’re asking the public for help, encouraging sponsorship of future Water Boxes, which cost $50,000, and asking for donations to purchase 5-gallon jugs that residents can use and bring back for future fillups.
“It’s a huge deal to go from water bottles to something that can provide ten gallons of water per minute, while filtering out the lead,” White says. “Now we’re talking about a solution that will help people take showers. It’s not just drinking the water, that’s not the only thing that’s needed.”