Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Herbert L. Needleman

I just learned, via BMJ, that Herbert Needleman died on July 17. Here is a remembrance from Dr. Richard Jackson. Needleman discovered that even low level exposure to lead, below the threshold of any immediately observable symptoms, damages the developing brains of children.

At the time, exposure to lead was pervasive. Lead was in house paint and gasoline. While few children could escape its effects, the likelihood of substantial exposure was higher in children who lived near highways and heavily trafficked areas, and in sub-standard housing with deteriorating paint. In other words, poor children.

So he was a hero, right?

No, he became a pariah. He was attacked by the lead industry, hounded by columnists, snooped after by hired investigators, had his files endlessly combed over by high priced consultants, and was indifferently supported by many of his colleagues at his university. Herb and his steadfast wife Roberta went through years of attack.
Just like the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry, industries responsible for poisoning children with lead spent vast sums to relentlessly deny the science and persecute the scientists. This is profoundly evil.

Anyway, Needleman was ultimately vindicated and lead is now banned from fuel and paint, and other possible sources of exposure such as pottery glaze. The fake controversy over the dangers of tobacco is behind us although, sadly, the mass poisoning of populations all over the world by tobacco is not. It is long past time for people to stop pretending there is any legitimate controversy over anthropogenic climate change.

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