Michigan Names Flint Native Ninah Sasy New Clean Water Public Advocate


In an effort to prevent future public health disasters like the infamous Flint water crisis, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has named Ninah Sasy as the department's Clean Water Public Advocate. As an experienced public health official from Flint, Sasy has the know-how and personal drive to ensure that this kind of crisis never happens again.

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer created the position of Clean Water Public Advocate this past year as part of her promise to make clean water a top priority. Sasy will be the first person to fill this post.

"Since taking office I’ve been working toward real and permanent solutions that ensure every Michigander can bathe their kids and give them a glass of clean, safe water at the dinner table," said Gov. Whitmer.

Protecting the children of Michigan is certainly a priority for Sasy with her new position. During the first two years of a child's life, they need good nutrition to foster healthy growth and improve cognitive development. That good nutrition is impossible to achieve when children are drinking from a contaminated water supply.

While Sasy is looking forward to amplifying the voices of the families in Flint, where her grandparents still live, she says that her new role will allow her to advocate for people all over Michigan who are worried about the safety of their water, their community's infrastructure, and Michigan's water in general. There are about 91 million people over the age of 16 who swim in the United States' oceans, lakes, and rivers every year. Surrounded by the Great Lakes, Michigan is home to plenty of these swimmers who may have questions about the water's safety. One of Sasy's top goals is to ensure that communication channels are open and residents feel comfortable going to her with feedback, complaints, or concerns about Michigan's water.

"I have a lot of hopes and aspirations (about the new job), but the primary one is just improving transparency. Making sure community members are aware of what we’re doing behind the scenes, how we’re working together and what we’re doing to address their concerns," said Sasy.

Sasy has the credentials and experience to back up her aspirations. She has a master's of science in administration from Central Michigan University, a master's of public health from Michigan State University, and a bachelor's of science degree from MSU. Since 2005, Sasy has been a part of statewide public health and emergency response initiatives.

She has also worked for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Sasy has experience leading programs, making her as versed as any of the 27 women who headed Fortune 500 companies in 2017, when the percentage of female CEOS reached an all-time high. Her years in government organizations certainly gives her more of an advantage in her new position than years in a private corporation would. Most recently, Sasy led the maternal and infant health programs at the Michigan Public Health Institute in her role as the senior maternal child health strategist.

Sasy has built collaborative partnerships throughout her career on both a local level and a state level. Combined with her experience in grant administration, emergency response, and project management, this collaborative nature will be essential in helping her inform and engage Michigan residents.

In her first 90 days, Sasy aims to do a lot of listening to state and local officials who have been dealing with water issues. She hopes to investigate the current system for collecting and analyzing complaints about water during that time as well. These initial efforts will give her the background and familiarity she needs to do her job effectively.

This is important, as many people are woefully underinformed when it comes to water. A study in the Journal of Pediatric Dentistry found that over 65% of parents who use bottled water didn't know what levels of fluoride it contained. In Flint, it took years for residents to know that their water was contaminated with lead. A major responsibility of Sasy's will be to create a statewide uniform reporting system that collects and analyzes complaints, hopefully allowing information to flow more freely.

Sasy will also assist in the development and implementation of water regulations and she will work with stakeholders to improve drinking water across the state. Recently, Michigan has rolled out new rules regarding the testing of lead and copper in drinking water. As the strictest regulations in the nation, they likely go far beyond what the naked eye can see, such as how water in a pool appears transparent when it is less than 20 inches deep. Sasy will take a lead role in helping residents and communities interpret these complicated test results.

With Sasy's involvement, Michigan residents will have access to data that they never have had before. This access will likely lead to an increased awareness of issues regarding water contamination issues and the aging infrastructure in their communities. Not knowing the state of the city's infrastructure was a major factor in the Flint water crisis.

Sasy starts her new position this week and is looking forward to the impact she can make. She has a personal investment in ensuring the state doesn't have another Flint water crisis and intends to push for plenty of transparency, open communication, collaboration, and innovation in order to prevent that.

For full story, pick up a copy of the MONTH XX issue of The Allegan County News/The Union Enterprise/The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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