JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – A technology developed by a nonprofit affiliated with Jaden Smith could help the city of Jackson provide clean water to residents while cutting out the use of plastic bottles.
Tuesday, the city council approved entering into an agreement to house “Water Box” purification systems at fire stations No. 1 and No. 20.
The boxes will be in place for a year and will be provided free of charge thanks to a grant from the Ann Arbor-based 501C3THREE. The company will cover all set-up costs related to bringing in and operating the machines, which have the ability to produce 10 gallons of clean drinking water every 15 seconds.
“I got a call from some people who had done this type of work in Flint. I thought it would be a good thing to try, to get more people drinking water without having [to use] bottled water,” Fire Chief Willie Owens said.
The technology was first used in Flint, Michigan, due to the water crisis there. It was also deployed in Jackson in 2021 following the city’s winter water crisis, and a current water box is set up at Sykes Community Center, at 520 Sykes Rd.
According to 501CTHREE’S website, the technology was developed by actor Jaden Smith, the son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Drew Fitzgerald, who were looking for “a solution that would provide water without using all the plastic.”
In 2021, the group says its efforts cut out the need to use some 886,000 single-use plastic bottles, all while producing 111,000 gallons of potable water for underserved communities.
Under the terms of the agreement, 501CTHREE will support costs for treating up to 62,400 gallons of water per month, as well as water testing during the beginning and end of the program period, as well as telephone and field support of system operation and maintenance.
At the end of the program, Jackson will have the ability to continue using the equipment at its own cost, Owens said.
“There have been a number of people to come to me about this technology and how it can support our needs to supply water during moments of crisis,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “Our fire stations and firefighters have been instrumental in [our water] distribution efforts.”
The vote comes amid Jackson’s ongoing water crisis. In August, equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant caused water pressure to drop for tens of thousands of connections across the capital city and in Byram.
The Mississippi National Guard and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency were deployed to help distribute water during the crisis. Through September 12, more than 10 million single-use bottles had been given out, MEMA Chief Communication Officer Malary White said.
“That’s just on the MEMA side. That doesn’t include the amount of donations churches and others have received,” she said.
Some people are concerned the large number of bottles will have long-lasting environmental concerns, including Keelan Sanders, executive director of Keep Jackson Beautiful.
He said KJB set up seven recycling collection sites, including at Smith-Wills Stadium, the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, and the Jackson Medical Mall. The group also is finalizing an agreement with Jackson Public Schools to put recycling sites on all school campuses.
“If they just put it in the trash it’s going to go to the dumpster,” Sanders stated previously. “And plastics do not break down. It clutters and creates more of a hindrance or problems on the back end and so if we want to be conscience and make sure we are looking out for our children’s children, don’t make it into our landfills and oceans.”
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