She Against the World: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha


Early in 2016, Michigan State University and the Hurley Children’s Hospital announced a new Pediatric Public Health Initiative to address the Flint community’s population-wide lead exposure. This comes after a Flint pediatrician and mother of two had forced the State of Michigan to end its use of the Flint River as its water source.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, born in the United Kingdom from Iraqi parents, has become one of Flint’s best-known doctors; after completing her residency and chief residency at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, she earned a Master’s degree in Public Health, focusing on health management and policy, at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Currently, she is Director of Pediatric Residency at the Hurley Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

In September 2015, Dr. Hanna-Attisha and her team analyzed patients’ blood and found high levels of lead. The lead had been seeping into the city’s water supply for more than a year; the cause was highly corrosive water flowing through city plumbing, eating away at the pipes, and letting lead leech into the water.

Using her hospital’s records, she studied test results from more than 3000 students in and around Flint and found that the number of Flint children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had nearly doubled from 2.1% to 4%; this was after the city had switched to a new water supply.

She felt that her State was facing an emergency and that she had to do something about it; thus, she shared her results at a press conference. The early response was not as she expected; State officials insisted that the water was safe and tried to dismiss Attisha’s findings. Then, a State official pushed the State to do more research and double check the accuracy of Attisha’s findings; the results assured her findings. State and federal officials declared a state of emergency; Governor Rick Snyder sent the National Guard to distribute bottled water and water filters to residents.

It is worth mentioning that lead is an irreversible neurotoxin with a lifelong, multi-generational impact; it causes a drop in children’s IQ and is directly linked to violent offenses. Attisha, thus, predicts that in the coming years there will be more children who need special education. As a result, she and her colleagues have founded the Flint Child Health and Development Fund; they will collect donations to face Flint Children’s long–term needs resulting from lead exposure.

The Pediatric Public Health initiative brings experts in pediatrics, child development, psychology, epidemiology, nutrition, toxicology, geography, education, as well as community and workforce development. The Initiative will employ evidence-based interventions for inclusion in its response to the Flint water lead exposure. It focuses on three overarching areas: education, nutrition, and medical/health.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension nutrition staff members are working with the Hurley Medical Center to provide nutritional education, including recipes high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C, all of which help block the absorption of lead into the body. In addition, MSU Extension has shared these recipes through its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) education classes.

Erin Brockovich, the now-famous legal assistant who helped win a multimillion settlement from a California utility in a 1993 groundwater contamination case, praised Hanna-Attisha on Facebook on 13 January 2016 for her work, writing “The best news I have heard yet for Flint—thank you, Dr. Mona”.


*Published in SCIplanetWomen and Science (Spring 2016) Issue.

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