ROYAL OAK, Mich – Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatric physician who first discovered high rates of lead exposure in Flint children, said “lead is a neuron toxin. It causes irreversible damage.” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had initially dismissed and scorned reports of extensive lead poisoning. “It’s not a 9 to 5 issue. For the Governor it was. You don’t mess around with lead.”
Hanna-Attisha was speaking as an invited guest at the Royal Oak Democratic Party meeting last Saturday. She said her commitment to environmental justice began while in her early teens as a high school student at Royal Oak’s Dondero High School. She was active in the school’s Environmental Science Club that helped close an incinerator in neighboring Madison Heights. “A few activists can sometimes make an incredible difference,” she said.
Another member of that high school science club, Elin Batanzo, a specialist in water quality and water infrastructure issues who had spent ten years at the Environmental Protection Agency, told Hanna-Attisha she had never heard of a water authority switching from a clean source of water (the Detroit water system) to a dirty source (the Flint River) and then not using phosphates for corrosion control.
Calling it a “perfect storm,” Hanna-Attisha noted the Flint River water was very corrosive, it was going into an aging infrastructure, and the city had lots of lead plumbing.
She told the standing room only crowd that Flint residents did not sit silently by when foul water started coming out of their faucets in April of 2014. She said Flint, the city that gave birth to the United Auto Workers union, has a “proud history.” Residents immediately began protesting at town council meetings. Pastors and their congregations joined the fight.
Hanna-Attisha said what happened to the children of Flint is horribly amplified because on top of every disparity Flint’s population already has, (forty percent poverty, lower life expectancy) “you give them lead which can impact IQ and behavior.”
She stressed there is still hope for Flint’s children. The effects of lead are irreversible but we can do a lot. “We need to throw every resource at them.” She has over ten pages of suggestions from early childhood intervention, to expansion of WIC (Women, Infant and Children program), to breast feeding education, expansion of mental health services, nutritional services and mobile food banks.
Expressing gratification for the nation’s response and saying enough water has been collected, she urged those wanting to contribute to give to the Flint Child and Health Development Fund at www.Flintkids.org
Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward commented that Flint was the result of austerity policies meeting poverty, racism, and anti-democratic rule that caused the catastrophe, referring to the lack of action by the Governor and his appointed Emergency Manager, Darnell Earley.
Michigan Congressman Sander Levin (D-9th) said Flint is a “wake up call for America.” Levin warned we are going to have major crises in the country as long as we have people who refuse to raise taxes and allocate the necessary money.
He called for the passage of a Families of Flint Act introduced by Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee (D-5th). The act calls for $1.5 billion, to be equally shared by the Federal government and state, to pay for infrastructure repairs in Flint, services to families exposed to lead and economic development and expanded youth employment opportunities.
Levin had a quick retort to those who say Democrats are politicizing the issue saying “that’s the only way to get changes.”
Photo: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha speaks at U-M School of Public Health, Feb. 3, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Junfu Han | The Ann Arbor News via AP