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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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Greed For Power May Demolish The Democracy

Politicians compete with each other for power and this greed for power can demolish democracy

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Greed for power in politics may demolish democracy in India. Pixabay

By SALIL GEWALI

It is too disgusting that Shiv Sena is aiming for something which was nothing but an act of betrayal. Here the principles and ethos of the party are just sacrificed. The “chair” of Chief Minister is what the individual parties in Maharashtra are wanting so badly. And for this only Shiv Sena has severed its ties with its all-time ally BJP which emerged with the largest number of MLAs. Is it not the BJP with which Sena made the alliance before the election? Why so much bitter feelings after the poll result? Many past elections were fought on this mutual understanding. Sena had always taken pride and bragged about its power and clout as because the BJP was behind it. But now very contrary equation and chemistry are on display. NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena are sharing the ideas as opposed to the expectation of the whole electorate.

Democracy
Politics in India might lead to a sinking democracy.

One believes it’s Congress and its High common which Shiv Sena Supremo Late Bal Thackeray always disliked and ruthlessly held them up to ridicule. It was because they hold the opposing ideologies. But now his son Uddhav Thackeray kneeled down and sought the helping hand of those rival camps to walk the party through for the chair of Chief Minister. Going by the flood of comments on the social media, this party has ostensibly fallen from the grace. BJP is not a holy cow either. It is equally good at flexes its muscles for the power.

Also Read- Being Terrorized Comes With Job for Women in Politics

While Maharashtra is already under the president rule, the NCP and Congress now exploring all possible means to back Shiv Sena.   Uddhav Thackeray only wants to see his son Aditya Thackeray being the Chief Minister of one of the riches states in the country. The trend is not at all healthy. Here everything is utterly clear that the cherished values of democracy in India are fast eroding. Majority of the states in the country, only the “particularly families” are  always standing up to rule the roost. This is a bigger threat to the fundamental values of the country.The NATION is no more controlled by the government of the people, nor is it for the people. It is the government of the particular families which is formed for the fulfillment of the low greed and narrow aspiration of those particular families. Lastly, it is the common people who are always at the receiving end of the leaders’ whims and tantrums. Phew, the country is not at all in the safe hands.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali