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How Lead Poisoning Was Discovered in Flint’s Water

How Lead Poisoning Was Discovered in Flint’s Water

The toxic water supply in Flint, Michigan, which exposed up to 42,000 children under 2 years of age to lead poisoning, was a major media story a few years back. Ingestion of high dosages of lead, particularly among infants, results in cognitive impairment, attention and mood disorders, and aggressive behavior. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s account of that urban man-made disaster reads both as a detective story and as an exposé of government corruption in her book “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.”

She brings the reader along as she uncovers Flint’s calamity within the context of her experience as a Christian Iraqi immigrant living in one of America’s poorest cities. Flint, the eighth-largest “majority-minority” city in the U.S. (57 percent black, 37 percent white), is where a kid born will live 15 years less than one born in the neighboring communities.  As a pediatrician working at Flint’s Hurley Hospital, one of the few public hospitals left in the country, her advocacy was driven by its  “mandate to serve the community above all.”

Although she had been an environmental activist in college, her story reveals how even the most vigilant of us must recognize that “the eyes don’t see what the mind doesn’t know.” She begins her journey blithely comforting her patients’ concerns about the quality of their drinking water: “The tap water is just fine.”

Her concerns only surface when she found out, by chance, that when Flint had to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to lower its costs, government agencies were not properly checking for lead in the water supply. Her fellow health advocate, Marc Edwards, a self-described conservative Republican and civil-engineering professor from Virginia Tech, explained to her that even though the federal law required proper inspections, “The EPA and the states work hand in hand to bury problems.”

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