Hurley doctor credited with exposing lead levels in Flint's children

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FLINT (WJRT) - (10/13/15) - A Hurley pediatrician is credited for blowing the lid off the lead problem in Flint.

“Our population has been traumatized, these families have been traumatized,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Her painstaking research showed unsafe lead levels in Flint’s children.

Since she revealed those findings to the public in September, she has gotten international attention for her work.

“When pediatricians hear 'lead', we freak out. Lead is probably one of the most damning things you can do to a population,” Hanna-Attisha said.

She said it all started over a glass of wine with a friend who used to work for the Department of Environmental Quality.

After that, she started digging.

She looked at blood lead levels from Flint children in the Hurley database.

When she compared the levels before and after the switch to the Flint River water, what she found was shocking.

“Lead levels in children significantly increased after the switch, so we tried to rack our brains, 'Was something else going on?'” Hanna-Attisha said.

The research continued to point to the water as the cause.

“As a scientist, you have to be paranoid. You are always paranoid. You recheck and recheck. We ran this data a bazillion times," Hanna-Attisha said.

Even after presenting these findings last month, state agencies publicly denounced her research.

“I was called 'irresponsible.' I was called an 'unfortunate researcher.' It makes you feel like crap. It makes you second-guess yourself, but as a scientist, you knew you did this right,” Hanna-Attisha said.

Those same people who refuted her findings changed their tune a couple weeks later.

They confirmed the doctor was right.

They found their own devastating levels of lead in Flint's water, including some of the schools.

Hanna-Attisha was relieved, but there was another emotion, too.

“We were sad because that means this problem is huge. It means so many more kids were exposed to lead when they didn't have to be. It affects an entire population,” Hanna-Attisha said.

She calls what happened in Flint a "game-changer."

“We wouldn't expect this to happen in 2015, especially when we could of used corrosion control to prevent it, and ironically we are in the middle of the Great Lakes state and we can't even guarantee fresh drinking water to our families," Hanna-Attisha said.

She is working with national organizations to try to push for policy changes at the state and federal level to make lead and copper rules more strict so that what happened to Flint's children doesn't happen anywhere else.

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