Flint Pediatrician Concerned About High Lead Levels in Drinking Water

Many communities across the nation are concerned about their water quality—especially the presence of lead. Here, Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who helped expose the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, talks about the dangers of lead in children and why we must protect them from this toxic metal.

This is a transcript of the video.

When a pediatrician hears the word "lead," we just, there's nothing more to say than we freak out. We freak out when we hear the word "lead."

Lead is probably the most well-studied neurotoxins—poisons—ever known.

We've known about what lead has done for centuries.

I'm a pediatrician, which means I literally took an oath to protect children. I did the research that kind of uncovered the rising blood lead levels in Flint, and when that came out, it was dismissed and denied and attacked by those who were telling us that the water was safe.

And when the pediatrician hears the word "lead," you can't reassure—you can't say anything to reassure us. You just stop what you're doing and you need to learn more.

You need to act.

Every agency tells us, from the CDC to American Academy of Pediatrics, that there is no safe level of lead.

Lead is a potent, irreversible neurotoxin. It impacts almost every organ system, and really, every age population.

But we worry about the children the most because they're the most developmentally vulnerable, especially children under the age of six.

Once it is in your body, and causes that neurotoxicity, it impacts your nervous system, your development. It impacts cognition, which is how we think. So it drops children's IQ levels.

It impacts behavior, how kids act. And it can lead to attention problems and behavioral problems, conduct disorders, criminality. So, fundamental functionings of a child.

Once it is in your bones, it can come back out at future times. If you are, for example, stressed or pregnant, or have poor nutrition in the future, it can come back out of your bones and cause that neurotoxicity all over again.

There's no good thing about lead; it's not supposed to be in our bodies.

But unfortunately, we continue to live with the legacy of lead, be it underneath layers of paint or under soil from gasoline contamination, but also in our drinking water infrastructure.

So it is so hard to believe, but we actually have a known neurotoxin delivering the drinking water to much of our nation's infrastructure.

It is something we need to act on. It's something that we need to truly respect the science on.

We need to move towards primary prevention to make sure that no child is ever exposed to lead.

Voices

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is helping to bring attention to the high lead levels in Newark, New Jersey’s drinking water—some of the highest recently recorded by a large water system in the United States.

Personal Action

Residents of cities like Pittsburgh and Newark continue to face high levels of this toxic metal in their drinking water supplies. Here’s what to do if this crisis affects you.

Q&A

Seth Siegel, author of the new book “Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink,” says we must change people’s mind-sets and get to the root of the issue to ensure safe drinking water for everyone.

Northeast Dispatch

Denials and delays from city officials have failed to keep residents safe from high levels of lead in their drinking water. These community organizers are busy picking up the slack.

Northeast Dispatch

The state now requires its public schools to test their drinking water for lead. But few districts have made it clear how they’re addressing the troubles at their taps.

NRDC in Action

These four NRDC lawyers would finish each other’s thoughts—at any odd hour of the day or night—in their quest to help victims of the city’s lead crisis.

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