Doctor who exposed Flint water crisis talks to Kzoo

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha speaks to News 8 Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2019.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha speaks to News 8 Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2019.

Editor’s Note: The video previously attached to this story had a graphic error in it. The graphic referenced lead levels connected to water, which is incorrect. The drinking water in Kalamazoo is safe to drink. We apologize for the error.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The pediatrician who helped expose the Flint water crisis was in Kalamazoo Wednesday evening to address concerns of lead poisoning in surrounding neighborhoods.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha partnered with Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. to have a forum at Chenery Auditorium. The forum was called “Moving Toward a Lead Safe Kalamazoo.” 

KNHS says Kalamazoo’s lead problem is the silent pediatric epidemic as many are unaware of its existence or severity. They say that the “2016 Data Report on Childhood Lead Testing and Elevated Levels: Michigan,” revealed that children under six years old living in Kalamazoo County had elevated blood level rates, twice the level of Flint.

“It’s no surprise because that’s a condition throughout our state whenever you have older homes (with) deteriorating paint,” Hanna-Attisha said. 

The report identified zip codes 49001 and 49007 as having the highest lead level rates in Kalamazoo County, with the lead exposure primarily coming from lead-based paints. 

As a mom of five kids living in a 49007 neighborhood, Caley Riemens told News 8 she didn’t know lead poisoning was an issue in Kalamazoo County until her son got sick. 

“My son is 19 months right now and at his 12-month visit, they discovered that his lead levels were elevated and they have continued to rise,” she said. 

Riemens said there’s a possibility her son may already be showing learning and developmental side effects from lead poisoning as he hasn’t started talking yet. 

“It’s scary because you don’t know exactly what kind of effects it’s going to have on him until he’s older,” she said.

In the meantime, the worried mom is doing all she can to protect her family from further exposure. 

“We mop and vacuum daily, making sure there’s no paint chips on the floor,” Riemens said. 

As a pediatrician, Hanna-Attisha’s works with parents sharing this same fear. 

“That look that I see in almost all parents’ eyes where they’re worried about their children, where something happened (and) they didn’t know about it — they couldn’t control it,” Hanna-Attisha said. 

While Hanna-Attisha and KNHS have a list of resources and tips to help protect kids in high risk areas, Hanna-Attisha said the most important thing is to stop the ongoing exposure. 

At Wednesday’s forum, KNHS and fellow community partners talked about their plan for moving toward a lead safe Kalamazoo. 

Part of the three-year plan includes using money from a $2 million grant to fix houses where children under the age of six have elevated blood lead levels. 

To find more information about KNHS and its efforts toward making Kalamazoo a lead safe community, you can visit its website.

**Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s last name. We regret the error, which has been fixed.

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