As It Happens

Flint, Michigan, declares emergency; high lead levels in kids linked to tap water

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha found the number of children in her clinic with high lead levels jumped significantly after the city started pulling drinking water from the Flint River.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha (left) raised the alarm about lead in tap water in Flint, Mich. Residents (right) demand safer water during a protest in Flint. (Doug Pike / CP)

When she saw the data, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was speechless. Looking at blood tests, she found an alarming spike in lead levels in the kids at her clinic.

And more worrying was the cause: It corresponded exactly to the city's cost-cutting decision to draw its tap water from the Flint River, instead of buying it from Detroit.

She tells As It Happens co-host Carol Off, "I haven't been able to sleep for about four weeks. It's physically jarring. It's just the worst thing that could happen to a population that's already suffering from so many obstacles."

LeeAnne Walters of Flint, Mich., shows water samples from her home. (The Associated Press)

Although officials originally dismissed her concerns, Flint has now declared a public health emergency -- and promised action. That will include better testing, and providing filters to clean the water.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha says the consequences for her young patients won't be known for years. She says lead exposure can cause "life-altering" problems for children, including learning disabilities.

"If you were to put something in a population to keep them down, it would be lead. And that is the last thing that these kids need," she says.