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Dr Herbert Needleman: A crusader’s lifelong battle to save children from lead poisoning

Lead levels found in children have dropped by over 90 percent since Needleman first published his findings in the 1970s

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Dr. Herbert Needleman. Thanks to his work, we now know that even in small amounts, lead can cause children long-term learning disabilities and IQ deficits. Image source: www.wbur.org
  • In the 1950s, lead was used everywhere- paint, pipes, toys, and gasoline
  • Dr. Needleman used children’s baby teeth to explore the lead levels
  • He now has Alzheimer’s and is not able to speak on his own behalf

Back in 1957, Dr. Herbert Needleman went to see was on his way to see a 3-year-old patient at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, when he first came across a case of lead poisoning. In Pipes, paint, gasoline and toys- lead was everywhere and options to escape it were too little.

The girl child he treated was probably poisoned by lead paint or dust at home, making it difficult for her and her mother to go back there. The girl’s mother was a single parent and therefore, it was difficult for her to afford another place.

Thus, Herbert decided to devoted his time and career to fight against odds and find a solution to lead poisoning that affected many during his time. His son, Josh Needleman, referenced a time when he was in a boat with his father. They passed some teenagers who were smoking and throwing rocks at a duck. Dr. Needleman immediately yelled at the teens to cease throwing rocks at the defenseless creature. Josh says the teenagers stopped, most likely because they were so startled. Dr. Needleman defended a duck, now you can only imagine how passionately he felt about standing up for children.

Dr. Alan Leviton (L), Dr. Herbert Needleman, and Dr. David Bellinger (R) at the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award ceremony in 1989. Needleman won an award for his research on lead poisoning. (Photo courtesy of David Bellinger). Image source: newsworks.org
Dr. Alan Leviton (L), Dr. Herbert Needleman, and Dr. David Bellinger (R) at the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award ceremony in 1989. Needleman won an award for his research on lead poisoning. (Photo courtesy of David Bellinger). Image source: newsworks.org

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The children who suffered with lead poisoning were treated as best as they could be. They were advised by the doctors to simply move out of the houses they were living in due to the lead levels found in paint at the time. The children suffered from many symptoms including abdominal pain and cramps, aggressive behavior, constipation, mental impairment, and many more.

Symptoms of lead poisoning. Wikimedia Commons.
Symptoms of lead poisoning. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Needleman conducted a study examining the effects that lead had on children. He used children’s baby teeth to explore the lead levels. In 1979, the study was published, and the results caused an international debate. In an interview with with Bill Moyers which aired on PBS, Needleman said, “[children] who had lead in their teeth, but who had never been identified as having any problems with lead, had lower IQ scores, poorer language function, and poorer attention.” These findings were controversial because companies who made lead products did not want to take the blame for unintentionally poisoning children. These companies claimed that those results are due to family life and education.

In the 1980’s, the government was working hard to wean lead out of gasoline and Needleman’s findings sped the process up. In 1991 Dr. Needleman testified in support of the bill to remove lead from households, “There is a broad consensus on the part of everybody except the lead industry and its spokesmen that lead is extremely toxic at extremely low doses.” This did not go over well with landlords or realtors, and the bill was not passed.

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As a follow up, in 1992, Congress passed that Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act. The act required landlords and others to disclose to customers any information regarding lead paint in the home, apartment or building they were viewing.

On the other end, scientists were working feverishly to prove that Needleman was guilty of scientific misconduct. The University of Pittsburgh, where Dr. Needleman worked, investigated for a year and found no proof of scientific misconduct.

Although lead levels found in children have dropped by over 90 percent since Needleman first published his findings in the 1970s, the government has stopped trying to eliminate lead completely. Meaning, there are still children who go to the doctor’s office with lead in their blood. These doctors are still left with little to help the children as any amount of lead found in the blood is extremely dangerous.

-by Abigail Andrea, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @abby_kono

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Gujarat Elections: The Fight to the Finish between Congress and BJP

The counting of votes for the Gujarat elections will begin on December 18 at 8.00 AM

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The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Women on their way to the polling booths in Gujarat on December 9, VOA News

 

  • The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress into a close contest over the seats.
  • The exit polls predict a victory for BJP.
  • The counting of votes will begin at 8.00 A.M. on Monday, December 18.

The Gujarat elections, which were carried out in two phases on December 9 and December 14, will finally come to its culmination on Monday, December 18, as the counting of votes will commence from 8.00 A.M. The Gujarat polls, over which seasoned BJP politicians such as Narendra Modi and Amit Shah  have locked horns with the newly appointed president of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, have been subjected to numerous speculations and predictions, ever since the two political parties have launched themselves into relentless campaigning for the various constituencies.

The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Rahul Gandhi kissing his mother after being elected as the President of Congress on December 16, 2017, VOA News

Congress vs. BJP: Who will Win the Gujarat Elections

The campaign for the Gujarat assembly elections has been a vehement one for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has extensively referred to the growth index and other statistical details while enumerating the virtues of the BJP government. His developmental policies, such as the Ujjwala Yojana through which free LPG gas facilities were provide to households below the Poverty Line, have made him immensely popular among the women of Gujarat. Modi’s appeal as the ‘son of the soil’ has earned him support in the urban and commercial hubs of Gujarat, in spite of the brewing discontent over demonetisation and the imposition of GST. The BJP has also succeeded in securing the support of the tribal people of Gujarat, who were previously considered as a stronghold of the Congress.
However, with the trio of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, Rahul Gandhi seems to have infused young blood into the Gujarat elections, and has thereby attracted a significant number of young voters. Hardik Patel, with his political acumen has become a potential threat for the BJP, as multiple scandalous tapes of him as well as his aides have not decreased his popularity. In North, Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch, people seem to be disappointed with the BJP government, since the much-applauded ‘Gujarat Model’ has failed to solve basic issues in their lives, such as shortage of water.

 

The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the voters at Kalol, in the outskirts of Ahmedabad on December 8, 2017, VOA News

Gujarat Elections: The Exit Polls

The Gujarat Polls of 2017 have often been hailed as one of the closest competitions faced by the BJP government during its 22 year long tenure as speculations are rife regarding who will win the Gujarat elections. However, in spite of the unyielding campaign by the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, the speculations hint towards another victory for the BJP in the state. An aggregate of nine exit polls in Gujarat show that the BJP is expected to secure 162 seats, while 65 seats may be secured by the Congress.

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Rahul Gandhi Elected as President of Congress Amidst Celebration of Followers

The 47 years old has been Vice President for a while during the tenure of his mother Sonia Gandhi

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Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

Rahul Gandhi was elected to the position of the President of Congress after his mother Sonia Gandhi stepped down in his favour on December 16, at a ceremony in the AICC Headquarters in Delhi. In an event attended by sister Priyanka Gandhi, brother in-law Robert Vadra and veteran politicians such as ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi became the sixth member of his family to have ascended to the position of the President of Congress, after a significantly long period of apprenticeship as the Vice-President.

 Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress after a speech by his mother Sonia Gandhi. Wikipedia

Sonia Gandhi Steps down

In an emotional farewell speech, Sonia Gandhi thanked all the party members who had supported her in the initial days of her 19 year-long tenure as the President of Congress, as she nostalgically recounted how she had never intended to join politics, but was thrust into it by the tragic circumstances. “Meeting this challenge was not the achievement of one individual but the continued efforts of all of you,” said she, addressing the crowd for the last time as the President of Congress. Sonia Gandhi, whose election to the post was preceded by the assassination of her mother in-law Indira Gandhi as well as her husband Rajiv Gandhi, expressed her confidence and pride in the spirit and resolve of her son, stating that his training as Vice President has made him “Stronger and unafraid”. Sonia Gandhi’s speech, however, was constantly interrupted by the noise of firecrackers, which were being burst by some members of the party, who were celebrating the much-awaited election of Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress after a speech by his mother Sonia Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi with the Prime Minister of Greece at New Delhi, Wikipedia

Rahul Gandhi becomes President of Congress

The 47 years old Rahul Gandhi, who until recently was engaged in an active campaign for the upcoming state elections at Gujarat, was awarded the Certificate of Election by Mullapally Ramachandran, the President of the Central Election Authority of Congress. “Politics belongs to the people, it is their greatest weapon in dismantling the structures that oppress, silence and disempower them,” stated the newly elected President of Congress, calling himself an ‘idealist’, who looks forward to better days. Rahul Gandhi’s fiery speech was met with much applause and appreciation, especially from the younger members of the party.
In 2013, the ascension of Rahul Gandhi as the Vice President of Congress was followed by a loss in nine state elections, and a victory in three. The election of the president comes at an interesting point of time, with the upcoming elections in 16 states, as well as the national election in 2019.

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Undaunted Initiative by tribal women for forest preservation in Muturkham, Jharkhand

Muturkhum forest saved from deforestation and exploitation under Timber mafia due to collective efforts of tribal women

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forest under the threat o deforestation in Muthurkam saved by tribal women. pexeby

8th Nov, 2017, Jharkhand:Armed with just water bottles and sticks, a group of poor tribal women in Muturkham village of Purbi Singhbhum district of Jharkhandtrekked miles to the sal forest that surrounded their habitat. Their mission: To save the forest from being plundered and denuded by the “forest mafia”.

Accompanied by just a dog for their safety, these determined women made frequent forays into the deep forest — with which they shared a symbiotic relationship — and have been able, over the years, to successfully conserve 50 hectares of forest land and its flora and fauna deep in the heart of a territory that has also been a battle zone between government forces and left-wing extremists.

This group was brought together by Jamuna Tudu, 37, who has spent the last two decades of her life fighting against deforestation. It was in 1998, after her marriage, that Jamuna took up this challenge of preserving the forest by making villagers develop a stake in it.

 

orest saved from deforestation by tribal women in Muturkham. pexeby

Today, her Van Suraksha Samiti (Forest Protection Group) has about 60 active women members who patrol the jungle in shifts thrice a day: Morning, noon and evening. And sometimes even at night, as the mafia set fire to the forests in random acts of vandalism and vengeance.

Jamuna’s fight has not gone unnoticed. The President of India has honoured her conservation efforts.

“Few days after my marriage, when my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and a few other women from the village took me to the forest to cut wood and get it to cook food, I felt that if we keep cutting the trees this way, all our forests will be wiped out,” Jamuna recalled to IANS in an interview.

In her quest, she had to battle against the mafia that was chopping down trees for their precious sal timber with complete disregard for the law or the tribal tradition that prohibits cutting of the trees.

Realising that she would get little help from authorities, who may well have been hand in glove with the mafia, she took matters in her own hands. She spoke to a few women of the village who were quite aghast at the task she had taken on. We won’t do it; this will require us to fight the men in the village, they told her.

But Jamuna, who has studied up to Class X, foresaw a bleak green-less future for herself and her community with no trees and forests to sustain or protect them.

‘Jungle nahi rahega toh paryavaran kaise bachega (how will we protect the environment if the forest is destroyed)?’ she asked.

Jamuna’s clear understanding of the issue soon trickled down to the other women and even men in her village.

“I was brought up with a love and respect for nature. My father used to plant numerous trees in our farms in Odisha. That’s where I learnt the importance of the environment,” she said.

Pointing out how the mafia was exploiting the wood from Muturkham to fund their alcohol needs, she said she was bewildered by the passive response of the community at their habitat being slowly destroyed.

“I went on to speak to a few women in the village. I held a meeting with them several times to be able to convince them that we needed to protect our beautiful forests,” she said.

Gradually, she mobilised a group of 25 women from the village and armed them with bows and arrows, bamboo sticks and spears, they marched into the forest to take on the forest predators.

With time, many men also became part of the campaign against deforestation, but most of the effort has continued to be from women, said Jamuna.

There are many daunting challenges that came their way, but their single-minded dedication towards their cause kept them going.

“There were too many altercations with the village people initially.. many scuffles with the mafia… and I told those women that in this journey, we would come across both good and bad times, but we have to struggle to keep the forest,” said Jamuna.

The group convinced the railway authorities to bar the plundered wood from being exported.

“Some time in 2008-09, we were brutally attacked by the mafia,” she said.

“They pelted stones at us while we were coming back from the railway station after speaking to the station master. Everybody got injured,” she added.

For obvious reasons, Jamuna, the woman whose initiatives were hampering their business, was their main target. She and her husband suffered most in the assault.

“My husband got hit on his head as he tried to save me. It was dark and we somehow managed to run away. We narrowly escaped death that day.” But she did not give up.

Over 15 years of many fierce encounters with the mafia and relentless sensitisation of the community, Jamuna, and the Van Suraksha Samiti that she formed, have succeeded in protecting and conserving the 50 hectares of forest land not just surrounding her village, but around many others as well.

Tribal communities cannot survive without wood. They need it for various things — mostly to cook food. But they ensure that their requirements remain within sustainable limits.

“We don’t cut trees on purpose any more and use the fallen trees and branches for all our needs,” Jamuna said. “The amount we are able to save up during the rains is sufficient for the whole year.”

The Forest Department has “adopted” her village, which has led to Muturkham getting a water connection and a school.

In 2013, Jamuna was conferred with the Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award in the ‘Acts of Social Courage’ category and this year in August, she was awarded with Women Transforming India Award by the NITI Aayog.

Today, she runs awareness campaigns through various forest committees in Kolhan Division. Around 150 committees formed by Jamuna, comprising more than 6,000 members, have joined her movement to save the forests.

She wants to do a lot more. “I wish to do a lot… to make a lot more difference, but I am bound by limited resources. I can’t in many ways afford to go beyond the villages in my state.”

But if I get more support, many more forests like ours can be saved, she declared.

(This feature is part of a special series that seeks to bring unique and extraordinary stories of ordinary people, groups and communities from across a diverse, plural and inclusive India, and has been made possible by a collaboration between IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Mudita Girotra can be contacted at mudita.g@ians.in)