The National Writers Series presents a conversation with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, author of What the Eyes Don’t See, September 30.
Sunday, September 30
Doors open at 6 p.m. with live music, Morsels and cash bar
Event begins at 7 p.m.
City Opera House
For tickets, call 231-941-8082, ext. 201 or at the door
Each ticket comes with Dr. Mona’s hardcover book of What the Eyes Don’t See
“Even if you think you already know the story of the Flint water crisis, there is much to learn from this groundbreaking book, which reads like a scientific thriller set in real life.” —Traverse Magazine Editor Emily Tyra
In 2014, the state of Michigan shifted the primary water supply for the already-floundering city of Flint from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Enter Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. A pediatrician, researcher and mother, Dr. Mona was one of the last people we’d expect to critique the city’s drinking water. In fact, she, along with the rest of the staff at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, actually encouraged it. After all, it had the county’s seal of approval. But, after a friend at the EPA hinted that the city’s water wasn’t being properly treated, Dr. Mona donned her activist hat and prepared to fight apathy with evidence. In her debut memoir, What the Eyes Don’t See, released this past June, she documents how the doctor became the detective.
The title of Dr. Mona’s book was inspired by lead’s rather enigmatic chemistry. Lead is virtually undetectable in water. It’s colorless, odorless and tasteless. The numerous physical effects often take time to appear, sometimes lying dormant for decades. Following years of clinical studies, lead has also garnered a reputation as a particularly nasty neurotoxin, with effects that are often most dangerous in children. But even amidst nearly 18 months of both public and published outcry, state and county officials insisted that Flint’s water met safety and compliance guidelines.
So, Dr. Mona took matters into her own hands. What she needed, she knew, was proof. Undeniable evidence that Flint’s population was being slowly poisoned. She conducted what was, in her own words, “probably the easiest research project” she’d ever done. She examined her patients’ lead levels and discovered a gradual increase. Dr. Mona wasted no time in revealing her findings publicly. Unsurprisingly, her research was met with immediate backlash. But fast forward a few weeks. State representatives were reevaluating their figures and nodding in agreement. “Yes, well, the numbers don’t lie.”
They certainly didn’t. Dr. Mona’s official press conference took place in September 2015, and by mid-October, Flint residents were back on treated water. But, what about the kids? How are they doing? While objective data has yet to be collected, the city of Flint hasn’t been shy about backpedaling. Since Dr. Mona’s discovery, two new childcare centers have opened, and the government has implemented numerous childhood development programs. But it still isn’t enough. And neither are national water regulations.
What will go down in history as “The Flint Water Crisis” could just as easily have been “The Chicago Water Crisis” or “The D.C. Water Crisis,” where populations are just as vulnerable. In fact, Dr. Mona still won’t let her kids drink water in Flint, or anywhere else for that matter, that hasn’t been purified or bottled. What the Eyes Don’t See points to a much larger, country-wide crisis of denying science. The water in Flint is just the tip of the environmental iceberg.
At its core, Dr. Mona’s story is also one of community. It’s one of resilience. And it’s unquestionably one of truth—not only its discovery but its disclosure. Dr. Mona openly admits her greatest fear in her water crusade was not, “What if I’m wrong?” but rather, “What if no one listens?” Implementing change takes a city. One of doctors, and journalists, and teachers and parents. But, as What the Eyes Don’t See reminds us, sometimes just one person is enough.