What the Eyes Don’t See mixes Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s own personal and familial history with the story of her part in proving that the children of Flint, Michigan were being poisoned by their water. Each aspect of the book is interesting, although they don’t mesh as seamlessly as I’d like. I would have love to have read an entire book about just her life or an entire book about just Flint, but I doubt there’s enough material here for either. Regardless, her passion for children and their health and the details of the water crisis make this a book worth reading for sure.
“If we stop believing that government can protect our public welfare and keep all children safe, not just the privileged ones, what do we have left? Who are we as a people, a society, a country, and a civilization?”
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician, and even before she began her research into the water of Flint, it’s obvious that she cared deeply for her patients. She talks about her approach to boosting the health of children by examining their whole environment, looking for risk factors that might lead to bigger problems. This attitude, combined with her friendship with Elin Warn Betanzo (a former EPA agent) made her uniquely qualified to discover the high levels of lead in Flint water, and then begin the crusade against the corruption and negligence that put so many children and families at risk.
Lead is INCREDIBLY harmful to the body, and its effects are particularly dangerous in a developing body. After the city water in Flint was changed from the Detroit River to the Flint River in 2014, Dr. Hanna-Attisha began to notice symptoms of lead poisoning in her patients — especially small children and babies being fed formula (which is mixed with water). While recommending to her patients that they switch to bottled water (which many of them could not afford to do), she used hospital records to pinpoint a spike in lead levels — and made the connection to the switch. A lot of people were very invested in not admitting to any danger, so her fight to bring this information to the public was long and difficult.
Flint is now back on Detroit River water, but the children affected by lead poisoning will remain so to some degree for the rest of their lives. In addition, the fact that this happened at all shines a serious light on the failures of the government and EPA to keep people safe at even the most basic level.