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Pediatrician who uncovered Flint water issues details crisis, provides public health lessons

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha talked with Don Marsh about her book, “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis Resistance and Hope in an American City” at the St. Louis County Library on June 28.
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In 2014, the state of Michigan switched the city of Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. After the switch residents began complaining about the water but government officials claimed it was safe to drink.

Taking the government at its word, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at the city’s public hospital, continued to encourage parents and children to drink the water. However, the water wasn’t safe and it was contaminated with lead, something she discovered totally by accident.

Before a live audience on June 28, St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh talked with Hanna-Attisha at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters. She is the author of “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis Resistance and Hope in an American City.”

Hanna-Attisha told Marsh and the audience how she learned the water was contaminated and how she bucked scientific protocol to make her findings public when officials ignored and discredited them.

There were multiple causes leading to the problems in Flint. But since lead in plumbing was legal until a few years ago, even in a region such as St. Louis that has good drinking water, there can be lead issues.

Hanna-Attisha offered advice to minimize lead contamination in the home.

“You can flush your water before you use it,” she said. “So run the cold water in your tap until it gets really, really cold and then you know you have the water from the main that flushes a lot of that sediment. Another simple thing you can do is never use hot water for cooking and drinking because heat increases the leaching of lead from your plumbing.”

She continued, “If you have a vulnerable child, a pregnant mom, a baby who’s using this water for formula, you can attach a filter to the end of your kitchen faucet, a lead clearing filter.”

Listen to the complete conversation for more of Hanna-Attisha’s suggestions on dealing with lead and preventing other public health issues.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.

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