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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Campus

Author explores lead poisoning


A Columbia University professor and acclaimed author faced the UH community Monday to explain his new book, which chronicles the lead poisoning of young families by Johns Hopkins University in the 1990s.

David Rosner investigated the accused researchers of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a child pediatric center in Baltimore, in his new book, “Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children.”

Between 1990 and 1998, Johns Hopkins established a series of homes where they had lead exposed throughout the building in which the children lived in, Rosner said. African-American mothers between the ages of 18 and 22 who had children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years were placed in these homes. Over a period of five years, the children’s blood was taken every three months to in order to measure the effects of different kinds of exposure on their blood levels, he said.

David Rosner's novel “Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children.” investigated the idea that African-American mothers and their children were placed in lead-based homes for experiments. | Esteban Portillo/The Daily Cougar

David Rosner’s novel “Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children.” investigated the idea that African-American mothers and their children were placed in lead-based homes for experiments. | Esteban Portillo/The Daily Cougar

“It’s a bizarre experiment in which children were exposed to lead and have their blood measured over five years to know which exposure was best and which one was worst,” Rosner said.

Rosner said these toxins, mainly lead, caused serious side effects to individuals.

“The children encountered in loss of IQ, behavioral problems and attention deficit disorders,” Rosner said.

In 2000, children who had elevated blood levels sued Johns Hopkins because their lawyers argued the children were exposed to a neurotoxin and were damaged because of the experiment.

After numerous court hearings, in 2001, the Court of Appeals of Maryland found the KKI guilty of encouraging families to move into lead-contaminated housing as part of a study on lead levels of children.

“Our book, ‘Lead Wars,’ is an attempt to figure out it had happened,” Rosner said. “If the court had been right, that the researchers were Nazis and evil people, this would be an easy story to tell. We would have had people doing really terrible things to kids and exposing them to horrible neurotoxins that we’ve known for over a century.”

Lead poisoning is not a single event in which a child takes in harmful quantities of lead, gets sick and must be rushed to the hospital, Rosner said; instead, lead poisoning is an insidious, month-by-month accumulation of lead in a child’s body.

Rosner said he used lead poisoning research to explore the numerous dilemmas public health must face today as it tries to develop prevention strategies for emerging illnesses in the low levels of toxic exposure.

Even though lead poisoning among children is still ongoing, it is imperative that it be secured as much as possible, Rosner said.

“There’s still a half million children who are considered to be at risk for lead poisoning in the U.S.,” Rosner said. “There is still a half million ongoing victims of this insidious toxin that we need to keep protected.”

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