Mona Hanna-Attisha

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Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Mona Hanna-Attisha
Mona Hanna

(1976-11-24) November 24, 1976 (age 44)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan (B.S., M.P.H)
Michigan State University (M.D.)
OccupationPediatrician and professor
EmployerHurley Medical Center (pediatrician)
Michigan State University (professor)
Known forUncovering the Flint water crisis

Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician, professor, and public health advocate whose research exposed the Flint water crisis. Her research revealed children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in Flint, Michigan. She is now the director of an initiative to mitigate the impact of the crisis. She is commonly referred to as "Dr. Mona".[1] She is the author of the 2018 book What the Eyes Don't See, which The New York Times named as one of the 100 most notable books of the year.[2]


Born Mona Hanna in Sheffield, England, her parents are Iraqi scientists and dissidents who fled during Saddam Hussein's regime.[3][4] She grew up in Royal Oak, Michigan and graduated from Royal Oak's Kimball High School.[5] In 2017, she penned The New York Times opinion about her immigrant story and the impact of President Donald Trump's immigration restrictions titled Corroding the American Dream.[3]

Mona Hanna received her Bachelor of Science from University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, her Master of Public Health degree in Health Management and Policy from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She completed her residency and chief residency at Wayne State University/Children's Hospital of Michigan.[6] She is an associate professor at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Her husband, Elliott Attisha, is a pediatrician in Detroit, Michigan. They have two daughters.

Flint water crisis[edit]

Role in exposing lead levels[edit]

On 24 September 2015, in a press conference at Flint's Hurley Medical Center, Dr. Hanna-Attisha revealed that Flint children's blood lead levels doubled after the water was switched from the Detroit River to the Flint River in April 2014. It was later determined that the mean blood level of Flint children increased from 1.19 to 1.30 micrograms per deciliter in the calendar years before and during the switch to the Flint River for city water supply.[7]

Dr. Hanna-Attisha conducted her research after talking to a high-school friend, Elin Warn Betanzo, a former Environmental Protection Agency Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water employee and water engineer. Betanzo told Hanna-Attisha that Marc Edwards, a water engineer and professor from Virginia Tech and his team of Flint Water Study researchers, found high levels of lead in Flint residents' homes.[8][9] Even though Hanna-Attisha was not provided the data she sought from the State of Michigan, she used hospital electronic medical records as data for her study.[10][11]

At a risk to her career, Hanna-Attisha revealed her findings at the 24 September 2015 press conference before her research was scientifically peer reviewed, because of the public health implications.[12] Hanna-Attisha's findings were later published in the American Journal of Public Health.[13] Hanna Attisha's findings were confirmed in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in July 2016, and is recognized as an underestimate of exposure.[14]

At Dr. Hanna-Attisha's 24 September 2015 press conference she urged residents, particularly children, to stop drinking the water, to end Flint River as a water source as soon as possible and urged the City of Flint to issue a health advisory.[15] A day after Dr. Hanna-Attisha released her study, Flint issued a health advisory advising residents, particularly children, to minimize exposure to Flint tap water.[16] The water source was switched back to the Detroit River on 16 October 2015.[17] Later, the City of Flint, the State of Michigan and the United States made emergency declarations.[18]

Dr. Hanna-Attisha's research was initially ridiculed by the State of Michigan, when a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson accused her of being an "unfortunate researcher" "splicing and dicing numbers" who was causing "near hysteria."[19] About ten days later, after The Detroit Free Press published its own findings consistent with Dr. Hanna-Attisha's findings and after Hanna-Attisha engaged in one-on-one conversations with Michigan's chief medical officer, the State of Michigan backed down and concurred with her findings.[20][21] Later, at the press conference in which the State of Michigan acknowledged the lead in water crisis, Department of Environmental Quality officials apologized to Hanna-Attisha.[22] In his 19 January 2016 State of the State address, Governor Snyder publicly thanked Hanna-Attisha and Edwards for sounding the alarm about the Flint water crisis.[23][24] Dr. Hanna-Attisha's work was subsequently heavily criticized in prestigious medical Journals (Clinical Toxicology 2019; 57: 790–797. Obstetrics and Gynecology 2019; 134: 628–635. Journal of Pediatrics 2018; 197: 15–16.) reporting that the paper on the Flint water accident, although accurate as presented, was plagued by wrong conclusions, being impossible to differentiate the variation in blood lead levels in the time considered from other random variations over time. Moreover, such variation during the accident time was a mere 0,11 µg/dl increase in the mean geometrical blood lead level still within both a low range and a decreasing trend, which sounds differently from the reported "doubling" of a small number of children with levels over a certain threshold.

Advocacy and program involvement[edit]

Dr. Hanna-Attisha testified twice before Congress about the Flint Water Crisis and penned an op/ed advocating for federal assistance for Flint children exposed as a result of the crisis published in the New York Times.[25] Eventually, in part due to Dr. Hanna-Attisha's advocacy, $100 million in federal dollars was allocated to Flint in addition to approximately $250 million in state dollars to address the crisis.[26]

She is the founder the director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a partnership between Hurley Medical Center and Michigan State University, to optimize the outcomes of Flint children.[27] Through community and clinical programs, childhood health policy and advocacy, and robust evaluation, the Pediatric Public Health Initiative works with many partners, including Flint's heroic parents and kids, as a center of excellence, with the primary goal of mitigating the impact of the Flint Water Crisis and serving as a national resource for best practices.[28]

Also in response to the crisis, Hanna-Attisha worked to establish, was a founding donor, raises money for and is on the advisory board of the Flint Child Health and Development Fund.[29] In one year, the Fund raised over $17 million and awarded over $2 million in grants directly supporting Flint kids' health and development.[30]

Hanna-Attisha was appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to three public health commissions formed in response to the Flint Water Crisis, the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee,[31] the Michigan Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board,[32] and the Michigan Public Health Commission.[33]

"What the Eyes Don't See"[edit]

Hanna-Attisha wrote what has been described as a dramatic first-hand account of the Flint Water Crisis with the "gripping intrigue of a Grisham thriller."[34][35] The book was published by Random House imprint One World by editor-in-chief Chris Jackson. The release date for Hanna-Attisha's book, What the Eyes Don't See was 19 June 2018.[36] In addition to positive reviews in the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, and the Washington Post, What the Eyes Don't See was named a New York Times 100 Notable Book of 2018.[37][38][39] The book was also listed as a Best Science Book of 2018 by NPR's Science Friday and a Michigan Notable Book of 2019.[40][41]

Anonymous Content optioned the book rights to make a movie, to be produced by Michael Sugar and Rosalie Swedlin, and written/directed by Cherien Dabis.[42]

News and television appearances[edit]

Hanna-Attisha's role exposing the Flint Water Crisis was profiled by CBS Sunday Morning, "The Flint water crisis: A loss of trust"., CNN[43] Michigan Radio,[44] the PBS News Hour,[45][46] The Washington Post,[47] The New York Times,[48][49] The Detroit News,[50] the Detroit Free Press,[51] and the Rachel Maddow Show[52] among others.

Hanna-Attisha gave a TEDMED talk entitled "Flint's Fight for America's Children" on 1 November 2016.[53]

Hanna-Attisha was also profiled on ABC's 2016 end-of-year TV special "Game Changers with Robin Roberts" on 21 December 2016.[54] Hanna-Attisha was a guest on Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show where she received a coveted "Keep it 100" award.[55] Hanna-Attisha also appeared on a special "Who Wants to be A Millionaire" in "Hometown Heroes Week" on 27 October 2016. She pledged to give her winnings to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund.[56]

Awards and honors[edit]

Hanna-Attisha, for her role in exposing the Flint Water Crisis and her public health advocacy in response to the crisis, was named one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People in 2016 and she was also named to the Politico 50. She was also the recipient of the 2016 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling and the PEN American Center James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Award and one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans of 2016.[57] Hanna-Attisha was also named Michiganian of the Year by the Detroit News.[58]

She was awarded the Rose Nader Award for Arab American activism by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)[59] and named the Champion of Justice by ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services).[60] In 2016 Hanna-Attisha was the commencement speaker at Michigan State University, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Virginia Tech as well as two other universities.[61][62] In 2017 she was the commencement speaker at the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources.[citation needed]

Hanna-Attisha has also been recognized by environmental organizations, including the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, the Michigan Environmental Council, the Ecology Center and Children's Environmental Health Network.[63][64][65][66] She was also named a Union of Concerned Scientists 2016 Got Science? Champion.[67]

On 30 March 2017, Hanna-Attisha was named an honorary co-chair of the March for Science. On 21 July 2017, Hanna-Attisha and Edwards were jointly awarded the first Disobedience Award by the MIT Media Lab for "defying conventions of peer review as they sought to bring attention to Flint's water crisis before more people were affected."[68] Hanna-Attisha and Edwards donated the $250,000 award to victims of the crisis.[69]

Hanna-Attisha was awarded the 22nd Heinz Award for Public Policy in September 2017 for exposing the Flint Water Crisis and her subsequent work.[70][71]

On 18 October 2018, Hanna-Attisha was inducted to the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame by the Michigan Women's Historical Center.[72]

On 7 November 2018, Hanna-Attisha was asked to serve as Honorary Co-Chair of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's Transition Team.[73]

Hanna-Attisha was awarded the inaugural Vilcek-Gold Award for Humanism in Healthcare in 2019.[74] The award is a joint award presented in partnership between the Vilcek Foundation and the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. The award is bestowed to a foreign-born individual in the United States who has demonstrated an extraordinary impact on humanism in healthcare through their professional achievements.


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  33. ^ Michigan Public Health Commission
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]