What the Eyes Don't See

by Mona Hanna-Attisha

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Chapters 22–24 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1470

Chapter 22

A week after the press conference, Dr. Hanna-Attisha received a call from Eden Wells, the chief medical officer for the state of Michigan. Eden wanted to talk more about Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s research and compare it to the state’s data. It would later be revealed that Eden had been commissioned by Nick Lyon to disprove Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s research. However, after looking at the research, Eden stuck up for her and claimed that her research was valid. By October, the county had declared a public health emergency. Nick Lyon was to give a press conference, and at the time of the conference, Dr. Hanna-Attisha was to be granted access to the entire state’s blood-lead data.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha attended the conference, despite not being invited. Eden, Nick Lyon, Brad Wurfel, Dan Wyant (the head of MDEQ), and Mayor Walling were there. They unveiled a ten-point plan action plan to correct the lead issue, but it had little substance, and it still minimized the lead problem and the state’s negligence. After the conference, an argument occurred between Jamie Gaskin, the CEO of United Way, and the director of urban initiatives. Dr. Hanna-Attisha confronted Wurfel, who apologized to her, but she believed he should be apologizing to the people of Flint. Dan Wyant also approached her and gave her a halfhearted apology. The author reveals that both Wyant and Wurfel were fired soon afterward.

The next day, the University of Michigan began distributing water filters to the people of Flint. Dr. Hanna-Attisha spent time with her family and texted Jenny to let her know that the children of Flint would be protected.

Chapter 23

Chapter 23 acts as a kind of follow-up to the events of the water crisis. Emails and government documents were made public, and the author comments on how disturbing some of these are when considered in context. For instance, despite being aware of a potential lead issue far earlier in 2015 than August and September (when the main events of the story take place), the Flint government was clearly more concerned with calming people and protecting itself than testing the water to see if there was any validity to the claims. Additionally, government buildings invested in a stock of water coolers for its employees, despite telling residents the water was safe. When government officials did collect water samples, they did so in such a way that low lead levels would be revealed: running faucets for several minutes before collecting the water, so that lead deposits would disperse, and collecting from houses that they knew did not have lead pipes. Even when some tests did show high lead levels, they simply threw this data out. Despite claims that they had added corrosion-controlling chemicals to the water, there is no evidence that this ever happened. Further, after the water switch, there was a large increase in Legionnaire’s disease, which is also related to poor water control. The fact that the government knowingly ignored all of this, the author states, might be a case of racism, or callousness, or—given the fact that some deaths occurred—manslaughter.

The war was not entirely over, however. Dr. Hanna-Attisha and her team wanted to see the water source switched back. They had previously been told that it was impossible because the pipeline that had carried Detroit’s Lake Huron water to Flint had been sold. However, a week after the ten-point action plan was unveiled, and after receiving funds and donations from several sources, the governor agreed to make the switch back during a press conference. It was also during this press conference that he revealed toxic levels...

(This entire section contains 1470 words.)

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of lead had been found in three Flint schools. Dr. Hanna-Attisha was elated that they had decided to switch back to the original source of water, but she could barely keep herself together for her upcoming pediatric residents meeting when she learned about the schools.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha describes the celebrities and even presidential candidates who came through Flint following the water crisis. The most important, she states, was Senator Debbie Stabenow, whom she had wanted to meet for years. When Dr. Hanna-Attisha shared her research with Stabenow, the senator promised to find federal funds to help fix Flint; she also promised a full investigation. The same day, the EPA created a safe drinking water task force for Flint, which eventually led to a change in the way that states were legally able to collect water samples.

Chapter 24

Even with the water switched back, there was lasting damage to the pipework of Flint, And Dr. Hanna-Attisha continued to push for a state of emergency. She also began to work on an academic journal article using geospatial mapping with Jenny; one of her residents, Allison; and Rick, the GIS analyst. Afraid that they might be hacked by the government (and on the advice of Dr. Edwards) they used code names for emails and only kept their document on an encrypted flash drive. Only two months later, their article was published in The American Journal of Public Health. Having an article appear in this peer-reviewed journal, validated by other professionals in the field, made it much harder to discredit the findings.

Meanwhile, the state government tried to downplay the harmful effects of lead in the water, even though they were being sued through class action lawsuits for their negligence. In November, the Michigan governor was slated to meet with the new Flint mayor, Karen Weaver (Mayor Walling had not been reelected), and Dr. Hanna-Attisha was invited to this meeting. At the meeting, she saw Eden, who informed her that there had been a huge spike in Legionnaire’s disease deaths; however, Nick Lyon wondered aloud if he could simply say that this was due to seasonality. Dr. Hanna-Attisha was bewildered by this response, and Lyon then took the podium and claimed that forty-three children had been exposed to lead, which she could not fathom. The number, she thought, should be closer to 8,000. Behind the podium, she shook her head and provided visual disapproval. At the end of the meeting, she sent an email to the governor’s office claiming that forty-three was a bogus number, and she emailed the press to tell them that she disagreed with the government’s findings. Her head-shaking was noticed by Rachel Maddow, who invited her onto her MSNBC news show, where Dr. Hanna-Attisha explained why she disagreed with Lyon’s claims. As a result, Eden Wells and the public health officials eventually admitted that lead was a problem for the entire population of Flint.

Mayor Weaver announced a citywide state emergency. This caused the governor to elevate it to a county emergency, and President Obama turned it into a federal city emergency, which allowed the national guard to come and distribute water. Dr. Hanna-Attisha, Jenny, and Kirk worked on a list of potential interventions that might help children already exposed to lead. They also decided to develop a registry where they collected all the names of potential residents affected by lead in the water, ensuring that anyone affected had access to resources. Their purpose was not simply to fix the lead problem, however. They wanted to instill a sense of hope within the people of Flint and turn the community around, making it a better place for residents, especially children. After months of planning, they submitted their list of recommendations to the local and state government Emergency Operations Center.


Thus far, Dr. Hanna-Attisha has largely approached the water crisis as a doctor and researcher. As readers, we know that she has a strong activist background and that she is sensitive to the social and cultural needs of her patients, but in terms of paper publications and presentations, she sticks primarily to facts, explaining why lead is toxic and problematic or how many patients had elevated blood-lead levels based on her data. However, in these chapters, we see her social orientations and activism attaining voice as well. For instance, she describes her negative head-shake during Lyon’s speech, when he claims only forty-three children were affected, as a form of “visibly and actively and forcibly protesting.” Further, she is able to leverage the water crisis as a way to bring attention to the Flint community and attempt to make lasting social change. In chapter 24, she is given leverage to draft a list of demands from the government. She does not limit the list to water-oriented needs but asks for implementation of various social reform programs. While she would certainly argue that social reform, environment, and health are intimately connected, her suggestions undeniably go beyond immediate health needs. Given her list, it becomes clear how her social and moral obligations connect to her position as a healthcare worker, but we are also able to see how she initiates change as a social activist.


Chapters 19–21 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 25–Epilogue Summary and Analysis