Chronicling the Fight Against Lead Poisoning

May 6, 2013

Protecting children against the dangers of lead in the environment has never been in an easy task. In their latest book, Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, David Rosner, PhD, Ronald H. Lauterstein Professor of Sociomedical Sciences, and Gerald Markowitz, PhD, adjunct professor in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences, examine the complex history of lead poisoning in the United States, exploring the many social, ethical, political, economic, legal, and scientific questions that have come into play.

Drs. David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz

The Mailman School celebrated the two authors on the occasion of their new book with a reception that drew faculty from across the University.

Dean Linda P. Fried congratulated the authors on their substantial contribution to the public health literature. Dr. Lisa Metsch, Stephen Smith Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociomedical Sciences, discussed the important role that historians play in illuminating issues in public health, and the many contributions Professors Rosner and Markowitz have made by using historical scholarship to expose industrial and environmental hazards. 

"Lead Wars is another great example of how historians can bring to light a public health tragedy that has affected millions of children," said Dr. Metsch. "Professors Rosner and Markowitz have dedicated their professional lives to bearing witness to these tragedies with the goal of ultimately making our world a better place to live.”

In a powerful section of the book, Drs. Rosner and Markowitz, who is also a Distinguished Professor at John Jay College and CUNY Graduate Center, explore the controversy over research conducted in the 1990s at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins. Scientists at the Institute were accused of engaging in unethical practices when they enrolled young African American children in a study to test the feasibility of an inexpensive way to ameliorate lead poisoning. 

The book was reviewed in the New York Review of Books and, in honor of Earth Month, USA Today selected it among its 12 intriguing new environmental books. The authors were interviewed at length on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show and will be seen on Moyers & Co. during the weekend of May 24-26.

Dr. Rosner, who is co-director of the Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health and Dr. Markowitz are also co-authors of Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution (University of California Press, 2002), Deadly Dust: Silicosis and the Politics of Industrial Disease in Twentieth Century America (Princeton University Press, 1991) and Dying for Work: Workers' Safety and Health in Twentieth Century America (Indiana University Press, 1987).