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Iraqi-American Doctor Who Revealed Flint Water Crisis Slams Trump & Travel Ban at March for Science

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Among those who spoke out at the March for Science in Washington, D.C., on Saturday was Flint’s Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, an Iraqi-American doctor who discovered the connection between rising blood lead levels in the children of Flint, Michigan, and the switch to the Flint River as a water source. State officials initially dismissed her findings, but she refused to accept their denials. Democracy Now! spoke with Dr. Hanna-Attisha about the ongoing Flint water crisis, the life-saving importance of science, and President Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you the voices from Saturday’s March for Science, that brought hundreds of thousands of people around the globe out on every continent. We were in Washington, D.C., as we turn to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the doctor who discovered the connection between the rising blood [lead] levels in the children of Flint, Michigan, and the switch to the Flint River as a water source. State officials initially dismissed her findings, but she refused to accept their denials. This is Dr. Mona’s address at the march.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Hey! How’s everyone doing? Woo! I am Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha from Flint, Michigan. And it is great to be here. And I am here to tell you that the Flint water crisis is not over. We still cannot drink unfiltered water from our taps.


DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Boo. So, Flint is what happens when we dismiss science. Flint is what happens when we dismiss experts. Flint is what happens when we dismiss people. Flint is what happens when saving money is more important than public health.

I am a pediatrician, and every day I use science to protect and restore the health of my patients, my kids. And about a year ago, my research proved that our contaminated water in Flint was leaching lead into the bodies of our children.


DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Boo. And I took a risk. I walked out of my clinic to speak up publicly for my kids.

AUDIENCE: [cheering]

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Thank you. And I was attacked. But when you are fighting for children, you fight back. And I was loud, and I was stubborn. And science spoke truth to power. Science is not an alternative fact. And it is time for all of us to fight back against those who deny science and those who degrade science. It is time for all of us to step out of our clinics, our classrooms and labs. We need to make ourselves known into the halls of government. We need to hear all of your voices.

Today, I march for science. And today, I march for our Flint kids. I am marching for our smart, our strong, our resilient, our beautiful Flint kids. They inspire me to continue to use science every day to make sure that their tomorrows are bright as ever. And I want you to meet one of our amazing Flint kids. And I hope that she and little girls just like her become scientists. But this little one has her eyes on that house, the White House, in 2044. So, I want you guys to give a warm welcome to Mari Copeny, also known to the world as Little Miss Flint.

AMARIYANNA COPENY: Thank you, Dr. Mona. My name is Mari. I am a Flint kid, and I believe in science, because Flint kids are smart, and we’re brave, and, most of all, we’re strong. We knew something was wrong with our water. It was brown. And it smelled weird and tasted gross. It was burning my skin and giving me and my family rashes. My family and my neighbors knew something was wrong, but our state didn’t want to believe in science. They didn’t want to listen to us. They said we were wrong. And finally, scientists proved that our water was bad and that kids just like me were getting hurt—over 8,000 kids under age 6 exposed to lead. Listen to me. When we don’t believe in science, and especially when our government doesn’t believe in science, kids get hurt. That’s what happened in Flint. For the sake of Flint kids and for all over this world, I march for science!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Little Miss Flint and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha addressing the March for Science in Washington, D.C. I sat down with Dr. Mona in the midst of the stormy weather after she spoke, and began by asking her why she came to Washington for the march.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: How could I not come to Washington? How could you not be part of a March for Science? In my every day as a pediatrician, I am moved by science. I am guided by science in my care of patients, in my protection of patients. The Flint story is a story of science. It took science to unravel this unbelievable tragedy. So we need to believe in science, and we need to invest in science. If not, we have the risk of seeing many more Flints to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you did, how you used science to uncover what took place.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Absolutely. So, I was very much doing my job as a pediatrician, as a researcher. When I heard about the possibility of lead in the water, I stopped sleeping. Lead is potent, irreversible neurotoxin. It is damning for children and for generations to come. When I heard that there was lead in the water, I put on my research hat to see if that lead was getting into the bodies of our children. And it was. And instead of waiting to publish these findings in peer-reviewed journals, we held a press conference, and we announced these findings, because our days did not—our kids did not have a day to spare. So I took a risk. I took a professional risk and stepped out of my box, out of my clinic, out of my lab, and advocated for my kids. And that’s what needs to happen now every day. Scientists need to come out of our classrooms, out of our clinics and, you know, out of our ivory towers to use our science to better our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: First, the governor of Michigan tried to discredit you. And then, explain what happened.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Yeah. So, I was dismissed, in a long line of folks who were dismissed in the Flint story. Most importantly, the people of Flint were dismissed for 18 months. They were literally told to relax during this dire crisis. The moms, the pastors, the activists, the journalists, the water scientists—everybody was dismissed. And when I came out with the research that our children were being poisoned, I was also dismissed.

I was called an “unfortunate researcher,” that I was causing near hysteria, which is a great sexist phrase, and that the state’s numbers didn’t add up to my numbers. So, after a few weeks, the state actually looked back at their numbers and said, “Oh, actually, you know, our numbers do match up with your numbers,” and, you know, realized that we did have this massive crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is happening today?

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: So, today, we are almost in our fourth year of this ongoing crisis. The people of Flint, to this day, must still use filters and bottled water. We have had a great new settlement that will guarantee a line replacement, the pipe replacement. That’s going to take years to happen. We’ve been able to do a lot of things for the children, which is how I spend my every day—investments in early education, literacy, healthcare, nutrition. But we have not yet garnered the resources for the long-term recovery of these kids. These kids need resources for years, if not decades, to mitigate this crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: And the men who made this decision, the unelected city managers, have been indicted.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Yeah, there’s been about 18 criminal charges, including those emergency managers, including folks who worked in our water quality department, including folks who worked in our public health department. So, that accountability is incredibly important. And we need those ongoing investigations.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re here in Washington, D.C. You’re a doctor. You’re an Iraqi-American doctor.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Yeah, I’m a first-generation Iraqi American. My parents immigrated here when I was about 4. If Trump’s first immigration ban was in effect, I would not be here. So, it’s—you know, we have immigrants all over, in many of our most vulnerable communities, serving, doing our privilege to serve our communities here in the States. It is frightening what would happen if Trump’s immigration policies came into full effect, not only for the healthcare of our most vulnerable, but for the entire field of science, for the global partnerships that we have in science, and, you know, really for the future of our scientific discovery.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece in The New York Times, “Will We Lose the Doctor Who [Would] Stop the Next Flint?”

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Yeah. So, you know, I’ve been given this incredible microphone this last year, and I once again felt it was my duty, my ethical and moral responsibility, to raise my voice in regards to the immigration ban. So, this precedent, these policies, in regards to immigrants are totally contrary to everything that our country was based on. And, you know, Flint is a perfect example. If those were in place, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t know what would have happened to Flint. I hope somebody else would have done the same thing I did. But there’s examples, day in and day out, of immigrants serving these communities.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I began by saying that, on this day, we just learned this on the grounds of the Mall, on this day, Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, has been fired. They’re saying resigned, but it’s pretty clear he was fired. You knew him.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Yeah. He was a great physician. He was a great supporter of Flint. He actually came out to Flint twice during our water crisis, in support of our efforts, tried to advocate for more resources for us, spoke with the people, had town hall meetings at churches, met with our physicians. He’s been a great advocate of public health, in general, the need for broader support and investment in public health. So, it was heartbreaking to hear. I actually sent him a message on Twitter yesterday when I heard that he was asked to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: He also spoke out against gun violence.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: Yes, absolutely. So he very much recognized, as physicians do recognize, that gun violence is a public health crisis, it is a public health issue, and we need to treat it as such. And we need to increase regulations on gun violence to protect our most vulnerable populations. And I think, ultimately—I don’t know for sure, but I think that’s why he was asked to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who discovered the connection between the rising blood lead levels in the children of her city of Flint, Michigan, with the switch to the Flint River as a water source. She says the Flint story is a story of science.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, young people take to the stage to talk about the importance of science. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Jon Batiste and Stay Human singing, with jazz and funk trombonist Fred Wesley, “We’re Gonna Have a Funky Good Time” by James Brown. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. They were performing at the March for Science in Washington, D.C.

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