Community Flint Water Crisis

Flint Water Crisis Past and Present: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

Even the initial impact of the Flint Water Crisis was tremendous, according to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha MD, MPH, FAAP. Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician in Flint and a medical educator who used to oversee the training program for pediatric residents at Hurley Children’s Hospital. For Hanna-Attisha, the water crisis affected every dimension of life.

“From the moment of recognizing and learning about the potential of lead in the water, my role as a clinician and my role as an educator quickly shifted to that of like a detective-scientist to figure out what was going on-and also very much of an advocate,” she said.

Every part of her professional and personal life was changed because of the water crisis.

The trouble began when the city switched its water supply to the Flint River in 2014 in an effort to save money. Almost immediately, residents of Flint started noticing the water had a bad smell and color, and they began to observe other serious problems with it, as well.

Although Hanna-Attisha said others had been raising alarm bells that something was wrong before her, her awakening that there was a serious problem came from the moment she heard about the possibility of lead in the water. This occurred in August of 2015.

“That is the moment I realized something is serious,” Hanna-Attisha said. “You do not mess around with lead. Bacteria and other things-that sounds like it has been taken care of. But, when you know what lead does, especially as a pediatrician and a public health expert, when you know how it can impact children, you get involved.”

At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause convulsions, coma and, in the most severe cases, death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may experience behavioral disorders or suffer mental retardation.

Hanna-Attisha advised city officials to stop using the Flint River for water in September 2015. She said she went through a significant pushback where people were denying and dismissing her work. In October of 2016, the city officially switched back to using Detroit’s water. By then, Flint was left with thousands of damaged water pipes and damage to Flint and its children had already been done.

Hanna-Attisha experienced extreme feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, sadness and stress as a result of the crisis. Still, she is an Oakland County resident. She only needs to use bottled or filtered water at work or when in Flint. So, she said the way she continues to cope with the water crisis is nothing compared to the way those living in the city still deal with the crisis. She has tried to channel her emotions into action.

Hanna-Attisha has no biological relatives living in Flint.

“But there are lots of folks I consider my siblings and family. I was away from home a lot, especially in the very beginning. I was away from my biological children day and night. My biological kids said: ‘It’s okay. If Mom’s not with us, she’s with our 6,000 siblings.’ There was this saying at my house. We said ‘our Flint kids are no different than my kids.’ This is something we should all care about and be working to prevent.”

Hanna-Attisha said though pipe replacement was on hold due to the pandemic, the pipe replacement program should still be completed by the end of 2020.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson approved a settlement agreement at a 2017 court hearing brought by several advocacy
groups who sued the city and state of Michigan over the lead crisis. At that time, the city agreed to dig up services lines at 18,000 homes and replace lines made of lead and galvanized steel.

“If anyone hasn’t had their pipe replaced, this is the time where they really have to reach out to the city to get that done. It’s available to everybody who has a lead pipe or a galvanized pipe to get them replaced. There’s no cost, which is amazing-because in some of the other communities there’s a cost to get a lead pipe replaced.”

Hanna-Attisha said Flint is only the third city in the country to replace its lead pipes. She said people in other cities are learning because of what happened in Flint and more cities are replacing their lead pipes.

Hanna-Attisha also encourages Flint residents to register with the Flint Registry and take a short survey, which they are compensated $25 for.

According to the Flint Registry’s website, the Flint Registry is a project that will identify individuals exposed to the Flint water crisis, connect people to services and programs, promote health and wellness and help understand how the crisis has affected the Flint children and community. Hanna-Attisha leads the registry’s effort.

“What we are learning through the data that comes out of the Flint Registry is people have ongoing needs. Even to this day, people are signing up for the registry and there are a lot of gaps in their health that we are trying to alleviate. They still need things like food, healthcare and developmental assessments.”

When in Flint, Hanna-Attisha does, unlike many, trust the water at restaurants and other establishments. She trusts they are using filters or have tested the water. She said restaurants don’t normally have lead pipes, which are normally found in homes.

“In addition, if you’re using your water a lot and it’s a busy place-those risks are also minimized.”

Hanna-Attisha said if she was a young child or pregnant she would have more concern. She pointed out pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child. Lead can damage a developing baby’s nervous system.

So, according to Hanna-Attisha, the fight is not over.

“We work with many community partners who are still actively involved in water donation. There are partners in all of our work. We help promote those events, encourage donations and increase advocacy about these issues.”

The Flint Registry’s website address is





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