They didn't start out as environmental warriors. Clair Patterson was a geochemist focused on determining the age of the Earth. Herbert Needleman was a pediatrician treating inner-city children. But in the chemistry lab and the hospital ward, they met a common enemy: lead. It was literally everywhere-in gasoline and paint, of course, but also in water pipes and food cans, toothpaste tubes and toys, ceramics and cosmetics, jewelry and batteries. Though few people worried about it at the time, lead was also toxic.
In Toxic Truth, journalist Lydia Denworth tells the little-known stories of these two men who were among the first to question the wisdom of filling the world with such a harmful metal. Denworth follows them from the ice and snow of Antarctica to the schoolyards of Philadelphia and Boston as they uncovered the enormity of the problem and demonstrated the irreparable harm lead was doing to children. In heated conferences and courtrooms, the halls of Congress and at the Environmental Protection Agency, the scientist and doctor were forced to defend their careers and reputations in the face of incredible industry opposition. It took courage, passion, and determination to prevail against entrenched corporate interests and politicized government bureaucracies. But Patterson, Needleman, and their allies did finally get the lead out - since it was removed from gasoline, paint, and food cans in the 1970s, the level of lead in Americans' bodies has dropped 90 percent. Their success offers a lesson in the dangers of putting economic priorities over public health, and a reminder of the way science-and individuals-can change the world.
The fundamental questions raised by this battle-what constitutes disease, how to measure scientific independence, and how to quantify acceptable risk-echo in every environmental issue of today: from the plastic used to make water bottles to greenhouse gas emissions. And the most basic question-how much do we need to know about what we put in our environment-is perhaps more relevant today than it has ever been.
Brand: Beacon Press
Used Book in Good Condition
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fascinating and incredibly well written, interesting both for the story it tells about lead and also as a template for the many battles that are waged between between what is best for our children and ourselves and what happens when they are at odds with political and economic agendas. It is also inspiring in tracing how individuals who set their minds to it can make a huge difference in the world we live in.
Toxic Truth continues in the fine tradition of other important and groundbreaking "public health mysteries" as Johnson's "Ghost Map", Barry's "The Great Influenza" and Shilts's "And the Band Played On" to tell the tragic story of lead poisoning in America. While the two heroes of Toxic Truth emerge in the persons of geochemist Clair Patterson and pediatrician Herbert Needleman, the third hero of the story is clearly science itself. Throughout the book, and especially at times when both Patterson's and Needleman's quarrelsome personalities become problematic, it is good science that asserts itself and ultimately wins the day.
The author's background as a journalist is much appreciated by the reader in her ability to provide balanced portraits, not just of her heroes, but also of those scientists who often went toe-to-toe with Patterson and Needleman. Lesser books in this genre are often so lopsided in how they fawn over their chosen luminary and dismissive of their chosen...
This is a good book about two heroes: the man who succeeded in getting the US to ban lead in gasoline, and the man who showed that lead contamination was dangerous for children. In a perfect world, both men: Patterson and Needleman, should have had the Nobel prize. In the 70s and 80s the cultural mood for it was not there. I used to work in a laboratory in Paris where most of the scientists quoted in the book came to give talks. Needleman had come up with the idea of measuring lead not in blood, because blood is renewed too fast in the body, but in baby teeth. In baby teeth, the whole history of lead contamination is integrated. Then, you have a point of comparison to measure, for instance the relation between lead and intellectual deficiencies. Needleman was so good that I remember everything he said, and this was 30 years ago. He had a program with a reward for kids who brought him their baby teeth and a lot of trouble with kids bringing him dog teeth and grandma's dentures...
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