When Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha took a job in Flint, Michigan, she didn’t expect to become a New York Times Notable Book author for writing about the water crisis that would plague her patients.
Hanna-Attisha didn’t know one day she would play a role in uncovering the tainted water, helping to lead recovery efforts and testifying before Congress. But she did.
For these efforts, the pediatrician was named one of TIME magazine’s top 100 most influential people of 2016.
“I never intended to be an author,” Hanna-Attisha said in an interview Friday. “I did not go to medical school to write a book. But then again, I never intended to kind of be in the middle of this, you know, emblematic public health and environmental crisis.”
She said it’s been “overwhelming” to have the book gain attention and be selected as the Maryland Humanities’ 2019 One Maryland One Book read. Hanna-Attisha is “super excited” to return to Maryland, where her brother Mark used to live, in Takoma Park.
The book takes readers through the journey of Hanna-Attisha learning about toxic lead in Flint’s drinking water and then taking action. She also weaves in stories about her personal life as an Iraqi immigrant.
Hanna-Attisha was tipped off by an old friend who happened to be a drinking water expert. They got their families together for a barbecue at Hanna-Attisha’s home in August 2015.
“She had come across a memo from a former colleague at the [Environmental Protection Agency], who was warning that there was improper treatment of the Flint water,” Hanna-Attisha said. “That was kind of the point that my life changed.”
Prior to then, she said she’d heard concerns about the water in the news media, but every report came with a cushion of reassurance alleging the water was still safe.
“And that’s what I was telling my patients, that the water was safe, when they would come to me and say ‘Hey, can I make my baby’s formula with water?’ ” Hanna-Attisha said. One of those very instances with a patient and mother is told in the first chapter.
Today, Hanna-Attisha’s life is divided among her work in Flint, helping other communities facing similar struggles and promoting the book. She is founder and director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative from Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital.
“This is not just a Flint story. This is not an isolated story about that thing that happened a few years ago in that city over there with those people,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s about who we are and who we want to be.”
Hanna-Attisha said the book has become almost a “playbook” for resistance.
“Are we going to stay silent and accept all these injustices that are happening around us, especially to our most vulnerable population? Or are we going to resist and do better for our communities?” she said.