Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a physician, scientist, and activist who has been called to testify twice before the United States Congress, awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

She’s also the founder and director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a model program to mitigate the impact of the Flint water crisis.

J. Carl Ganter

J. Carl Ganter is co-founder and director of Circle of Blue, the internationally recognized center for original frontline reporting, research, and analysis on resource issues with a focus on the intersection between water, food, and energy. Carl — an award-winning photojournalist, reporter, and broadcaster — is recognized for developing the keen skills that helped to shape the multimedia journalism era. He received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Centennial Innovation Award (2012).


Carl Ganter: And that was Circle of Blue’s Brett Walton with Senator Gary Peters. And now we have Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha on the line. Dr. Mona, thanks for joining us today.

Dr. Mona: Thank you for having me.

Carl Ganter: It’s our pleasure. And you have a new book out, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story Of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.

“Flint’s just the tip of the iceberg.” – Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

And that American city is Flint, Michigan. And last night you spoke to a full house of about 700 at the National Writers Series in Traverse City. Before you even started, you got a standing ovation, so overall, what do you think that means? 700 people standing before you even started. What’s that telling you?

Dr. Mona: It’s absolutely humbling and it reminds me that our state cares. It cares about water, it cares about our children. So, it was great to be in Traverse City this year, to share the story of Flint, but the story of my book and what I really I hope to share with you today is that Flint’s just the tip of the iceberg. You know the title of my book is What The Eyes Don’t See, so it’s very much about what happened in Flint. Lead is something that, lead in water, we don’t see it, we don’t see the effects of lead, it’s known as a silent epidemic, but it’s also about lots of things that we don’t see, not just in Flint. It’s about problems that are often underground and out of sight and not in my city.

Carl Ganter: Having been through the Flint crisis, what’s really your advice as Michigan and the nation turns attention from water pipes, water pipes really, to water underground, where it’s even harder to see?

Dr. Mona: Yeah and I think that’s definitely what Flint has brought to light, that we’ve really opened people’s eyes all over to what is in our drinking water. Because of Flint, there’s been an incredible ripple-effect that people are now testing and they’re questioning the safety of their water and they’re finding contaminates, be it lead or be it PFAS. They’re no longer believing that our water is safe. And I think that’s amazing, I think that’s incredible, I think people need to be engaged and understand what we really took for granted, and even myself as a pediatrician in the middle of the Great Lakes. I believed, and I told my patients, that our water was always safe and it was not. What we’re seeing right now with PFAS and what Senator Peters alluded to is really a history in this nation where industry has had the upper hand.

We have been governed by industry, making scientists prove that their chemicals that they put into the environment are safe until proven harmful and that is absolutely contrary to common sense and contrary to what we need to practice in public health and pediatrics, which is the precautionary principle. We should not be putting all these chemicals into the environment unless they are proven safe, rather than proving harm. And so often, we neglect what happens to our children who bear the brunt of these contaminants and we don’t see the consequences for years, if not decades, if not generations later.

Carl Ganter: So, it’s more than a doctor in a book, you were really a detective and really diving into this for groundwater and for these other contamination, contaminants, we met with people who, and one of our headlines was, there’s fear and fury, people were scared and they’re upset. It took you more than a year to really reveal the Flint challenge. What do people do?

Dr. Mona: Yes. I think one of the lessons of Flint, which was proven successful, is the necessity to form teams, to build a village of folks that are united in whatever cause that you’re working towards. So, in Flint it was a group of folks that were moms and activists and incredible role of journalists and water scientists and the medical community that came together. So, just as your agenda today has all these different, diverse multi-disciplinary folks who are bringing this issue to light, that’s how we should continue our advocacy as we continue to uncover these similar issues.