Childhood Lead Hazard Pioneer Researcher Herbert Needleman, MD

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Summary Statement

Herbert Needleman, MD, is a pioneer in the history of medicine who has helped transform our understanding of the effect of lead on children's health. In this short opening statement at a1991 Congressional hearing on controlling the hazards of lead, Dr. Needleman reviews the history and politics of childhood lead hazards. In the 1970s, he revolutionized the field by documenting the impact of low lead exposure on the intellectual development and behavior of children. In 1979, he published a highly influential study in the New England Journal of Medicine1 that transformed the focus of lead research for the next generation and played a critical role in the elimination of lead in gasoline and the lowering of the CDC's blood lead standard for children. Building on a study by Byers and Lord in 1943 and those of Julian Chisolm and others in the 1950s and 1960s, which had documented a variety of chronic damage affecting children who showed acute symptoms of lead poisoning, Needleman's innovative study analyzed the lead content of the teeth of schoolchildren, correlating it with the children's behavior, IQ, and school performance. Not surprisingly, Needleman became the focus of the lead industry's ire. Beginning in the early 1980s, the industry's attacks on his research and use of public relations firms and scientific consultants to undermine his credibility became a classic example of how an industry seeks to shape science and call into question the credibility of those whose research threatens it. Industry consultants demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency and, later, the Office of Scientific Integrity at the National Institutes of Health, investigate Needleman's work. And then, in 1991, under pressure from industry consultants, the University of Pittsburgh formed a committee to evaluate the integrity of his lead studies. Ultimately the federal government and the university found no basis for questioning Needleman's integrity or the results of his research

7:14 mins.
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