Aug. 27 STEM Café to explore lessons of Flint water crisis

By now everyone has heard about the frightening problems with lead-polluted water in Flint, Michigan. But exactly how did the problems come about? And how can similar health risks be detected or prevented here in Illinois?

At the next STEM Café, two NIU faculty members will dissect what went wrong in Flint and will discuss how we all can become smarter consumers of municipal water services, wherever we live. “The Ripple Effect: What We Can Learn from the Flint Water Crisis” will be held on Saturday, August 27, from 9-11 a.m., at the Lorado Taft Field Campus, located 35 miles west of DeKalb, at 1414 N. River Road, Oregon, IL, on Illinois Highway 64. This event is free and open to the public.

Associate Professor of Geomicrobiology, Organic Geochemistry and Contaminant Hydrogeology Melissa Lenczewski, whose research is focused on water contamination, will explain the science behind how pollution gets into drinking water, how it affects human health and how the pollutants can be removed.

Associate Professor of Public Administration Eric Zeemering will focus on the precise failures of government that led to the crisis in Flint.

“Most people don’t give a lot of consideration to the supply of drinking water from their local governments,” says Zeemering. “But local governments play a crucial role in water quality and there are important questions that all concerned citizens should be asking to make sure they’re being kept safe.”

Zeemering is currently conducting investigations into the role local governments have in solving the environmental problems of the Great Lakes region. This summer, he is traveling to several communities in Illinois to talk with citizens about lead and water quality. His interest in local government is not just academic: over the years, he has served on various city and county commissions, as well as on the city council of Rockford, Michigan.

“Failures of local governance contributed significantly to the Flint crisis,” says Zeemering. “I want people to understand those failures so they can help prevent them in their own municipalities.”

“To hold government accountable in public health disasters, we need to understand not only the relevant science but also the mechanisms that exist for reducing or averting those disasters,” says STEM Café Coordinator Judith Dymond. “Between them, Lenczewski and Zeemering are perfectly positioned to cover the whole picture.”

This event is part of NIU STEAM Works series of STEM Cafés, all of which are free and open to the public. Breakfast items, including Lorado Taft’s famous cinnamon rolls, will be available for purchase.

Contact Judith Dymond at jdymond@niu.edu or 815-753-4751 to reserve your place and ensure enough breakfast for all attendees.

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