The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 10:00 pm

Flint fades from spotlight, but water crisis won't fade for years

Paul Wyche

Flint residents would love to turn the page, but history is still being written.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's recent report that the city's water system no longer has lead levels exceeding the federal limit is a step forward.

The study, however, is based on a sample size – 368 residential sites – of the more than 40,000 households that continue to be warned against drinking tap water there.

So, yeah, optimism is restrained.

“Especially with disruptions, main breaks – pieces of lead scale will be breaking off until these pipes are replaced,” Flint resident Melissa Mays told the Associated Press. “You cannot tell me the water is safe because you have not tested every home.”

Ms. Mays, we hear you. And so does Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She is the physician who took on government leaders by saying there was indeed a problem with the water in Flint when they denied it.

(For those needing a refresher, water in Flint became poisoned when officials switched its source to the city's river in a cost-saving move in 2014. The result was lead and other contaminants leaching into homes.)

Hanna-Attisha is assistant professor of pediatrics at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Children's Hospital in Flint.

She has garnered worldwide praise for studies helping expose elevated blood-lead levels in Flint children.

Hanna-Attisha or Dr. Mona – as she's known around Flint – directs the MSU and Hurley Children's Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, an effort to research, monitor and mitigate the effects of lead in the city's drinking water.

Hanna-Attisha says the manmade disaster is a generational one that will require years of intervention. And though tragic, positives are arising from the situation.

For one, Flint got the nation talking about water purity and other citizens around the country are now playing watchdog for their neighborhoods. Hanna-Attisha calls it part of “an awesome ripple effect.”

“There's still a long way to go, and what's happened is going to take years to decades” to address, she said. “We don't need a one- or two-year response to this.”

To that end, multiple initiatives are in place, including expanded Medicaid and, which aims to establish a charitable foundation to assist in the long-term health and developmental needs of Flint children.

As a native with family living in the city, my visits admittedly are sometimes somber.

I stopped in at one of my favorite restaurants last month for a quick bite and chatted with the waitress. She handed me a menu and a bottled water. In any other city in the country, that wouldn't be a big deal.

But this is Flint, so it is.

“There are still a lot of good people in Flint,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she replied softly, “there is.”

Paul Wyche is news librarian for The Journal Gazette and a Flint native.

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