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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
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  • 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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Political Climate Accused Of Encouraging The Promotion Of Black Money

There is a third reason why people who are tracking black money should not be looking at Swiss Banks

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Political Climate Accused Of Encouraging The Promotion Of Black Money. Pixabay

Last week, the political climate was charged with accusations that the government had actually begun encouraging the promotion of black money. Prima facie, the charges seemed to have some merit in them. Swiss bank deposits from India had swelled by 50%, one of the largest increases in recent times. But the accusation was a bit uncharitable. For three specific reasons.

First, even though the percentages seem high, the total amounts involved in Indian deposits with Swiss banks are not. At CHF 1.02 billion – even after accounting for the 50% jump – the amount is significantly lower than the CHF 6.46 billion in 2006 when the UPA was in power. In fact, Indian deposits with Swiss banks had been declining for the past three years – right from 2014 when Prime Minister Modi formed his government. It was only last year that the trend was broken and Swiss deposits began climbing again.

The second reason was that Indian deposits with Swiss banks account for just 0.07% of global deposits with Swiss Banks. That is one of the lowest levels ever during the last decade, overshadowed by an even lower share of 0.05% in 2017. At such percentages, India’s deposits with Swiss Banks are not much to rant and rail about.

There is a third reason why people who are tracking black money should not be looking at Swiss Banks. True, they were the best shelter for clandestine money in the past. But Switzerland has entered into several bilateral treaties for making disclosures about bank deposits to requesting states. That includes a treaty with India to provide real-time information with regard to Indians from January 2019. Obviously, any Indian who wants to stash away black money will not do so with Swiss Banks, because he would stand exposed.

There could, thus, be one credible explanation for the quantum of deposits in Swiss Banks going up. It could be found in the government’s decision to ram through amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCRA) in March this year.

which seeks to exempt political parties from disclosing their source of funds from overseas. The courts had earlier demanded that political parties make these disclosures and the government thought it wiser to try and change the law instead. This move is now being challenged before the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional by public spirited persons like EAS Sarma. The decision of the court is still awaited. The amendment to the FCRA technically permits politically connected parties to put their money back with Swiss  Banks where it is safer than in tax havens with not-so-unblemished a banking record. If this explanation is correct, one could say that the government, in collusion with all other political parties (all have kept quiet about these amendments), are responsible for the spurt in Swiss deposits.

cartoon showing black money
Cartoon Showing Black money. Flickr

As mentioned in these columns earlier, if people want to look for black money, they should first demand a full fledged investigation into the agriculture income disclosures before the tax authorities during 2011 and 2012. What makes those disclosures horrifying is (a) they were larger than ever before; (b) the cumulative value of disclosures during the two years was a mind-boggling Rs 874 lakh crore (Rs 874 trillion); (c) the cumulative value  of disclosures was eight times India’s GVA for 2013, and almost 100 times the total tax collected in that year.

It can be found in the decision of the enforcement authorities of not auctioning off properties they have seized in the past – irrespective of whether they relate to the NSEL Scam or the politicians who are being investigated for corruption (on extremely narrow charges). Attachment of properties makes for big news, full of sound and fury. But the refusal to auction them off points to collusion.

It can be found in the files of scores of senior officials who were suspended, when fraud was discovered, and then reinstated when public memory died. It can also be found in the files that routinely get burnt in fires that take place at government offices – possibly aimed at making evidence disappear – especially when it comes to corrupt deals and land development scams.

Also read: Punjab’s Aam Aadmi Party and Its Political Self Goals

But these are things politicians do not like to talk about. Many of them are collusive partners in the generation of black money. Their silence in permitting the amendments to the FCRA is ample proof of their willingness to allow a cover-up. The rantings and ravings against Swiss Banks are, therefore, of no consequence. (IANS)