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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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New Survey Indicates, Indians Worry About Terrorism, Unemployment And Corruption The Most

"At least 73 per cent Indians are optimistic that as a nation we are headed in the right direction. The global average paints a dismal image, where the majority (58 per cent) feels that they are headed in the wrong direction," the findings showed.

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The "What Worries the World Global Survey" by global market research firm Ipsos showed that 45 per cent of Indians are most worried about terrorism, 44 per cent about unemployment and jobs and 42 per cent about financial and political corruption. Pixabay

 As the country entered the seven-phase voting from April 11, a new survey said on Monday that Indians are most worried about terrorism, followed by unemployment and corruption.

The “What Worries the World Global Survey” by global market research firm Ipsos showed that 45 per cent of Indians are most worried about terrorism, 44 per cent about unemployment and jobs and 42 per cent about financial and political corruption.

India

India, however, bucked the global trend of pessimism where 22 countries out of the total of the 28 markets covered in the survey felt their country is on the wrong track. Pixabay

Apart from these issues, a significant number of Indians are also concerned about crime and violence (33 per cent) and poverty and social inequality (29 per cent).

“Pulwama terror strike has propelled terrorism to the fore. It was way down in the pecking order in the past waves. Terrorism is bothering Indians most. Likewise, lack of jobs is weighing on the minds of Indians and government,” said Parijat Chakraborty, Service Line Leader, Ipsos Public Affairs, Customer Experience and Corporate Reputation.

“Similarly, more concrete steps are needed for tackling corruption. While strategies are being formulated by the government to address them, our survey shows that Indians are preoccupied with concerns around these macro issues and will like them to be mitigated,” Chakraborty added.

china
Meanwhile China (94 per cent) inspires the most confidence about its national direction as 9 in 10 Chinese citizens say that the country is moving in the right direction. Pixabay

India, however, bucked the global trend of pessimism where 22 countries out of the total of the 28 markets covered in the survey felt their country is on the wrong track.

“At least 73 per cent Indians are optimistic that as a nation we are headed in the right direction. The global average paints a dismal image, where the majority (58 per cent) feels that they are headed in the wrong direction,” the findings showed.

Meanwhile China (94 per cent) inspires the most confidence about its national direction as 9 in 10 Chinese citizens say that the country is moving in the right direction.

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Saudi Arabia is in the second place (84 per cent), followed by India (73 per cent) and Malaysia (57 per cent).

The survey was conducted in 28 countries where 20,019 interviews were conducted between February 22-March 8. (IANS)