UM funds $100K to launch research on Flint water crisis

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

When University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel picked up the reins as leader of the state’s most prestigious university in the summer of 2014, he said among his top priorities was to leverage the university’s resources to work on real-world problems.

This week, Schlissel announced a “call to action” — and $100,000 in seed money — for researchers to identify ways to respond to Flint’s contaminated water crisis.

“As faculty members we have a unique opportunity to bring our collective experience and expertise from a wide range of disciplines in service to the people of Flint,” Douglas Knerr, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, wrote to UM colleagues. “As I am sure you know, the state is moving forward with plans to address this crisis affecting the health, safety and continued prosperity of the city of Flint and this region.”

Knerr also announced a 1 p.m. meeting Jan. 29 at the UM-Flint campus, at the Riverfront Center in downtown Flint, for faculty members from Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint to talk about ways to respond.

Already, at least one researcher — Marty Kaufman, professor and chairman of the Department of Earth and Resource Science University of Michigan-Flint — is seeking a community-based participatory research grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The three-year, $1.8 million proposal is to study Flint’s drinking water distribution system that was installed nearly 100 years ago. Kaufman says the research will have national implications.

“The city of Flint is bearing the brunt of being at the intersection of very bad decision making by public officials and aging infrastructure,” Kaufman wrote in his proposal. “But this is not a local issue confined to one city – this grant underscores the critical need for a national dialog on infrastructure issues in our older urban areas. Flint represents but the tip of the iceberg here, as noted by the most recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers – tens of millions of people are serviced by aging water pipes which pose risks to their health.”

Meanwhile, UM’s School of Public Health has posted information about its collaborations, and UM-Flint has posted information about the class it is offering on the city’s water crisis.