JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – A technology developed by a nonprofit organization associated with Jaden Smith could help the city of Jackson provide clean water to residents while banning the use of plastic bottles.
On Tuesday, the city council approved the conclusion of an agreement to install “Water Box” cleaning systems at fire stations no. 1 and no. 20.
The boxes will be in place for a year and provided free of charge thanks to a grant from Ann Arbor-based 501C3THREE. The company will cover all set-up costs associated with bringing and running 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 kind of work in Flint. I thought it would be a good thing to try, to get more people to drink water without having it [to use] bottled water,” said Fire Chief Willie Owens.
The technology was first used in Flint, Michigan, due to the water crisis there. It was also placed in Jackson in 2021 following the city’s winter water crisis, and a current water box is located at the Sykes Community Center, at 520 Sykes Rd.
According to 501CTHREE’S website, the technology was developed by actor Jaden Smith, 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 the need to use about 886,000 single-use plastic bottles, all while producing 111,000 liters of drinking water for underserved communities.
Under the terms of the agreement, 501CTHREE will support the costs of 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 phone 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 his own cost, Owens said.
“There have been a number of people who have come to me about this technology and how it can support our water supply needs during times of crisis,” said Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “Our fire stations and firefighters have been instrumental in this [our water] distribution efforts.”
The vote comes amid Jackson’s ongoing water crisis. In August, equipment failures at the OB Curtis Water Treatment Plant caused water pressure to drop for tens of thousands of connections throughout the capital and in Byram.
The Mississippi National Guard and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency were deployed to help distribute water during the crisis. As of Sept. 12, more than 10 million single-use bottles had been given out, said MEMA Chief Communications Officer Malary White.
“This is only on the MEMA side. This does not include the amount of donations that churches and others have received,” she said.
Some people are concerned that the large number of bottles will have long-term environmental concerns, including Keelan Sanders, executive director of Keep Jackson Beautiful.
He said KJB set up seven recycling collection sites, including Smith-Wills Stadium, the Mississippi State Fairgrounds and Jackson Medical Center. The group is also finalizing an agreement with Jackson Public Schools to place recycling locations on all school campuses.
“If they just put it in the trash, it’s going to go in the trash,” Sanders previously said. “And plastic doesn’t break down. It messes up and creates more of a bottleneck or problems in the back end, so if we want to be conscientious and make sure we’re taking care of our children’s children, don’t put it in our landfills and our oceans.”
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