Doc­tor’s study on lead in Flint wa­ter sup­ply a win­ner at Heinz awards

Medicine Hat News - - LIFESTYLES -

PITTS­BURGH A pe­di­a­tri­cian who helped call at­ten­tion to child­hood health risks from ex­po­sure to lead in Flint, Michi­gan’s wa­ter sup­ply is one of five peo­ple be­ing hon­oured with $250,000 prizes from the Pitts­burgh­based Heinz Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

The foun­da­tion awards rec­og­nize in­no­va­tive work in the arts, en­vi­ron­ment, hu­man con­di­tion, pub­lic pol­icy and eco­nomics cat­e­gories.

Dr. Mona Hanna-At­tisha, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity, won the pub­lic pol­icy award Thurs­day for a study pub­lished in 2015 that showed Flint’s chil­dren were ex­posed to lead lev­els deemed danger­ous by gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors.

“Lead poi­son­ing is known as a silent pe­di­atric epi­demic,” Hanna-At­tisha told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Wed­nes­day. That's be­cause ex­po­sure to lead doesn’t cause im­me­di­ate phys­i­cal symp­toms, but cre­ates neu­ro­log­i­cal and other prob­lems that can lead to be­havioural chal­lenges, poor aca­demic per­for­mance and other health is­sues later in life, she said.

Hanna-At­tisha doesn’t have a prac­tice, but heard about prob­lems with lead in the wa­ter from a friend who worked as a drink­ing wa­ter expert for the fed­eral En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. When Flint res­i­dents started com­plain­ing about dis­col­ored wa­ter and other prob­lems, and the warn­ings from other ex­perts in­clud­ing EPA sci­en­tist Miguel Del To­ral and Vir­ginia Tech pro­fes­sor Marc Ed­wards went un­heeded, Hanna-At­tisha did her study which helped force re­forms.

“I was the last domino,” Hanna-At­tisha said. “The most heroic peo­ple in this story are the peo­ple of Flint who were protest­ing and go­ing to City Hall be­cause of the brown wa­ter and be­ing ar­rested. When I pre­sented my find­ings I was also dis­missed and at­tacked. It should have stopped when the first mom com­plained and said there was some­thing wrong.”

Be­cause lead poi­son­ing can’t be re­versed, Hanna-At­tisha has led the Pe­di­atric Pub­lic Health Ini­tia­tive, a part­ner­ship be­tween her uni­ver­sity and Hur­ley Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, which has be­gun pro­grams to aid early child­hood de­vel­op­ment, im­prove nutri­tion, and oth­er­wise mit­i­gate the ef­fects that lead can have on Flint’s chil­dren.

Other Heinz win­ners in­clude poet lau­re­ate Natasha Trethewey, of Evanston, Illi­nois, (Arts and Hu­man­i­ties Award), Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity ecol­ogy pro­fes­sor Gregory As­ner (En­vi­ron­ment Award), Hous­ton com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment worker An­gela Blan­chard( Hu­man Con­di­tion Award) and chemist and expert in poly­meric ma­te­ri­als Joseph DeSi­mone (Tech­nol­ogy, the Econ­omy and Em­ploy­ment.

The award win­ners will be hon­oured at a ban­quet in Pitts­burgh on Oct. 18.

The foun­da­tion was started in 1993 by Teresa Heinz to hon­our her late hus­band, U.S. Sen. John Heinz.

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