It’s been much too long since this blog was updated, but not because there wasn’t news! The Merlin team has been focusing all of their attention on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. As many of you probably have seen in the national news, the source of Flint’s drinking water was switched from the Detroit River to the Flint River almost three years ago. The Flint River, long known as being polluted and toxic, was highly corrosive and began to leach lead from the lead pipes into residents’ drinking water. Almost immediately, people in Flint began experiencing brown, foul-smelling water coming from their taps. But this was the least of their problems. For over 18 months, Flint residents were kept in the dark about the real issue. When a local pediatrician began to see patients with rashes and hair loss, she began to test the children for lead and quickly sounded the alarm. At first government officials attacked this pediatrician and kept assuring the residents that the water was safe to drink. This was definitely not the case.
Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin whose affects, which include brain damage, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues, are not reversible. As the story began to hit the news, and government officials finally started to admit the problem, bottled water donations began pouring into Flint. We knew that this was a necessary first step, but not a long-term solution. Sending truckloads of bottled water, while initially very necessary, is not a sustainable, nor an environmentally sound fix to the problem. On top of the water crisis, Flint quickly began to have a plastic problem.
We knew we had the solution, but how could we help? To install one of our purifiers in every home in Flint was not something we could afford to do, even if we had all the additional resources (installers, parts, etc) in place. But we wanted to help in any way we could. In January of 2016, Lynn Shackelford started a GoFundMe page in an effort to get one of our purifiers into a shelter that served the Flint community. Her initial goal for the Merlin For Flint campaign was to raise the $1500 to purchase a purifier, and have it installed at a local shelter that provided meals to the community, primarily children. Having never used GoFundMe, Lynn thought she’s probably get family, and maybe a few friends, to make a donation. The response was tremendous. She was able to reach that first goal in less than a month. She decided that it was so successful that she’d keep it open and extend the goal another $1500 and raise funds for a second installation. In the meantime, Merlin vendors donated extra parts to build three more purifiers for Flint. Fluid Connections, Inc. donated extra solenoid valves, Unique Products donated connectors, tubing, back board, and assembly labor, and Commercial Water Distributing, LLC donated extra filters. With all that support, plus the local media attention in Grand Rapids, MI (WZZM Channel 13), the second goal was met even more quickly. To date, the Merlin For Flint campaign has raised almost $4800. This included large donations from two schools; one in Michigan (East Grand Rapids High School) and one in Ohio (BioMed Science Academy in Rootstown). In both cases, it was kids helping kids! We were amazed by the outpouring of support and generosity!
Our first purifier went to St. Mary’s church. They support a large Spanish-speaking population that was hard hit by the water crisis; none of the initial government warnings about lead that went out to Flint residents were in Spanish, so many were still unaware even after the information became public. They were struggling to provide the surrounding neighborhood with bottled water and saw our purifier as a way to provide water more efficiently. Joe Novitsky met with Father Zach and came up with a system that would store the purified water in a food grade storage tank outside of the rectory. So a suitable storage tank was found and ordered. In the meantime, Joe got to work testing the waters in various locations around the city, as well as the Flint River itself. He had to know exactly what was in the water in order to know how to get rid of it.
Luckily, our purifiers are customizable for just about any water issue. (If you’d like to review all of the official test results in Flint, check them out. Joe made some design changes to the purifier in order to accommodate a large lead filter. He also constructed the wooden platform for the storage tank. St. Mary’s Church is able to provide clean, lead-free water on demand from this storage tank. With the extra donations from GoFundMe, Merlin Eco Solutions was able to supply St. Mary’s with 200 food-safe collapsible 5 gallon jugs for residents.
Scott Mellema and Megan Shackelford from Voyages of the Merlin came to Flint to talk to Father Zach, Joe Novitsky some of our vendors, and volunteer installers to see how the purifier was working. Scott was deeply moved by the severity of the crisis in Flint, and all of the volunteers who were working long hours to help those most affected by the toxic water. He was pleased to see that our purifier, which was born out of a need for the cast and crew of his series, was helping so many people in this Flint neighborhood. He spoke with father Zach about how the purifier helped him meet the needs of the surrounding neighborhood. Scott and Megan visited another nearby church where volunteers were being trained to go out into the surrounding neighborhoods to assess the needs of each household and provide immediate assistance. The two Merlin voyagers also took a walk down to the Flint River and discussed why the switch to this body of water caused all the suffering. The two hope to return to Flint in the future to provide an update on a future episode of Voyages of the Merlin.
DRINKING WATER AND ICE MAKER
The second Flint location to receive a Merlin Eco Solutions purification system was St Lukes, a shelter for battered women and children. Sister Carol and her staff at St. Lukes serve over 2000 meals a week. Imagine doing that without the use of your tap water! But this was exactly what they were doing, and it was not an easy feat. Because St. Lukes was not going to serve as a water distribution site (as St. Mary’s install had been designed to do), our task was different. Rather than installing at a basement utility sink, Joe Novitsky designed St. Luke’s system to be accessible in their large commercial kitchen. As shown in the following photographs, black tubing was attached from the sink to the purification system. Clean water flows from the Merlin Eco Solutions system through blue tubing. Extra donations to the GoFundMe campaign allowed us to purchase another food-grade storage tank (smaller than St. Mary’s and kept indoors near the system). The system also fed clean, lead-free water to their ice machine and coffee maker. Sister Carol and her staff were able to do away with all those blue water jugs (see above) and get back to concentrating on their mission and not their leaded tap water problem.
We continue to monitor these systems and test the water coming from them to ensure they are providing safe drinking water. Joe visits the sites regularly and is ordering extra filters for both systems. The systems continue to meet our high expectations and are functioning beautifully. We are so pleased that we were able to help. A big thank you goes out to all of our vendors, our volunteer installers, and everyone who donated to the Merlin For Flint campaign. As of this writing, the situation in Flint is still not good. The tap water in Flint (without our purifier) continues to show extremely unsafe levels of lead and other toxins, despite the switch back to Detroit River water. This crisis is not over, nor will it be any time soon. While our Merlin For Flint campaign has ended, there are still two units that were built with donations from the campaign. We continue to search for another suitable and willing site for those units. If you know of a location that would like one of our systems, please contact us. Our goal is maximum good – an ideal site would be one that serves a large portion of the surrounding population, and provide for children (such as a shelter for families/children, youth group homes, preschools or daycare centers, or community centers).