WASHINGTON -- Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who helped blow the whistle last year on the toxic water in Flint, Michigan, told members of Congress on Wednesday that the crisis has put fear in the eyes of the city's parents.
“We have an entire population potentially exposed to one of the most well known neurotoxins to man. We have a population traumatized,” Hanna-Attisha said.
“I was in clinic yesterday and I see a mom, and you see that fear, that trauma in that mom’s eyes," she added. "And that’s trauma for two reasons: it is because of two years of governmental betrayal. You expect to turn on your tap and you expect that water to be safe. And it’s also the fear of the unknown. What is going to happen to my child? What is going to happen because of the lead exposure?”
The water quality in Flint deteriorated after state officials failed to properly treat the city’s water supply in 2014, causing corrosion of the city’s lead pipes -- upping the number of children with raised blood-lead levels. Lead exposure can cause a host of health issues, most notably brain damage and behavioral problems in people exposed as young children.
Flint has since switched back to it’s original, treated water source, however officials say they're not sure when the water will be safe to drink again.
Wednesday's hearing was called by congressional Democrats, who were angry that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) hadn't been called to testify at a Republican-led House Oversight Committee Hearing last week. Democrats have been hammering Snyder for the Flint water crisis and pushing Republicans to agree to additional spending to fix the city's infrastructure. (Snyder declined to attend the Democrats' hearing on Wednesday.)
Tammy Loren, a mother from Flint who attended last week's oversight hearing, said she's afraid that her four children, whose ages range from 10 to 14, have completely changed since being diagnosed with elevated blood-lead levels.
“Their grades have dropped drastically, their behavior has changed. They are not the same kids,” Loren told The Huffington Post. “Their personalities have changed behind this. It’s not just in one specific area that’s affected them. It’s affected everything from our day-to-day living to their complete mental state.”
Loren said she's not terribly impressed with various actions taken by different levels of government.
“Saying you are going to be there and provide these services is not enough because we don’t know how bad it can really get,” Loren said. “That’s the biggest fear. We are afraid of the unknown as parents.”
Dozens of Democrats filled the hearing, empathizing with Flint parents. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said that lawmakers need to provide answers for those suffering in the beset industrial town.
“I, like other mothers, taught our children to sing the ABC’s while washing their hands so that they could keep their hands under the water long enough,” Edwards said during her hearing’s opening. “I can only think as a mom, with all the other moms and dads, that they asked their children to do the same thing. And their children were exposed to lead and their children were poisoned. We have to do something about that.”
Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, the founder of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives, said it will be hard for the government to undo the betrayal of the Flint water crisis.
“I don’t have advice on how to overcome the fear, because once you’ve been betrayed in this most fundamental way and your child’s future has been sacrificed, I think the fear never goes away,” Lambrinidou said.
“We can’t afford anymore to trust our water utilities to protect us from lead and water. There is ample evidence to support that statement,” she continued.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) told Huff Post that she hoped the fears of Flint families will be calmed somewhat by her announcing a $55 million plan to replace the city’s 550-mile network of pipes, which is expected to be completed in June 2017.
“We are getting new pipes put in. That’s what’s going to address the fear, really. Our trust has been so broken for such a long time,” Weaver said. “We want to start with high-risk areas where we have people that are pregnant, children under the age of six, people with compromised immune systems and our elderly. We want to get started immediately. It’s already been almost two years. We can’t wait any longer.”
She continued: “I hope they’ll trust new pipes and I hope they’ll trust me.”
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