Trudy Sundberg Lecture Series to host doctor who uncovered water crisis

The pediatrician and researcher who helped expose the Flint, Mich., water crisis will speak on Whidbey Island in May.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha will be the featured speaker at the Trudy Sundberg Lecture Series.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha will be the featured speaker at the Trudy Sundberg Lecture Series.

The Trudy Sundberg Lecture Series presents An Evening with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She will speak about public health and water safety at 7 p.m. Friday, May 1, at South Whidbey High School, and at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 2, at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. Both events are free to the public.

Marshall Goldberg, chair of the Trudy Sundberg Lecture Series, explained how the committee invited Dr. Hanna-Attisha to speak.

“The setting is, one person, making a difference, speaking truth to power,” Goldberg said. “Flint is a minority community, poor, kind of ignored and taken advantage of.”

Hanna-Attisha found herself at ground zero of the Flint water crisis in 2014 after lead levels in the city’s water suddenly spiked. Lead poisoning causes irreversible brain damage and developmental delays in children. Its use in paints and gasoline has been banned for decades.

“Lead is toxic at any level,” Goldberg said.

Hanna-Attisha saw the growing harm to her patients, yet elected officials and water regulators did little to address the problem. Amid widespread citizen complaints, investigative news reports and public protests, the doctor decided to bring the crisis to the nation’s attention.

Hanna-Attisha assembled a team to analyze Flint’s drinking water and publicized her findings. She faced a lot of backlash for her work, but eventually President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency and the city of Flint reverted to its original water supply.

Hanna-Attisha testified twice before Congress. PEN America gave her the Freedom of Expression Courage Award and she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for her role in exposing the crisis.

The Trudy Sundberg Lecture Series began in 2014, a year after Sundberg passed away at age 88. Each year, an eminent speaker, selected by a team of community and library staff representatives, explores the areas of interest that Sundberg shared: education, literature, history, the arts, civic engagement and politics.

Goldberg says he considered Sundberg a mentor. He said he asked himself, “How can I keep her memory alive? The lecture series keeps her legacy alive and honors her memory.”

Sundberg was a well-respected English and journalism teacher at Oak Harbor High School and founded the Whidbey Island Democratic Club, served three times as president of the League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island, founded the Whidbey Reads book group and the Save Our Kids Crusade, and earned the Sen. Warren G. Magnuson Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Trudy J. Sundberg Memorial Fund and the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation underwrite the annual lecture series honoring the memory of Sundberg and her lifelong commitment to discover, explore and exchange information, ideas and opinions in an environment of respect and consideration.