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Bill Moyers: Our Media Is Polluted by Toxic Lies About the Risks Posed by Lead

There’s no safe level of exposure to this dangerous toxin still lurking in millions of homes, but that truth is consistently under attack from industry-funded public relations excecutives.

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This applies as well to lead and other toxins in our environment. Nobody intended it, it proved to be a consequence of, as even you say in here, the enormous amount of material we've taken out of the earth and turned into the engine of our prosperity.

GERALD MARKOWITZ: Well, unfortunately they didn't give them the information about the dangers of lead that they had. They knew that lead was killing children in the 1930s. They knew that researchers were uncovering lead and they were fighting those, the diagnoses of lead poisoning in children. They, even into the 1970s and '80s, they went after researchers like Herbert Needleman who were uncovering the low levels of lead that were damaging children. They were not innocent purveyors of a product. They were actively involved in the political dialog attempting to increase their profits at the expense of public health.

BILL MOYERS: I interviewed Herbert Needleman some years ago for a documentary on Kids and Chemicals. Let's take a look.

BILL MOYERS in  Kids and Chemicals: In the late 1970s Dr. Needleman studied the baby teeth of healthy schoolchildren in two Boston suburbs […]

DR. HERBERT NEEDLEMAN in  Kids and Chemicals: When we looked at the data, we found that children who had high lead in their teeth, but who had never been identified as having any problems with lead, had lower IQ scores, poorer language function, and poorer attention.

BILL MOYERS in  Kids and Chemicals: It was a stunning discovery, and no one knew it better than the lead industry. Leaded gasoline was the single greatest source of lead exposure, and as a result of Needleman’s work the Environmental Protection Agency sped up efforts to ban it. The lead industry fought back, denying Needleman’s science.

JEROME COLE in  Kids and Chemicals: Lead has been used in gasoline for over 60 years. There’s simply no evidence that anyone in the general public has ever been harmed by this usage […]

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN in  Kids and Chemicals: The lead industry attacked it viciously and they attacked Dr. Needleman himself. They accused him of scientific misconduct and they actually filed charges against him at his university and at the National Institutes of Health.

DR. HERBERT NEEDLEMAN in  Kids and Chemicals: It’s like a death sentence. If you’re found guilty of scientific misconduct you’re out of business; your reputation is ruined; you’re through.[…]

BILL MOYERS in  Kids and Chemicals: The assault went on for three years. For three years, Dr. Needleman stood his ground.

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN in  Kids and Chemicals: Those were tough years in Dr. Needleman’s life. Eventually those charges were shown to be baseless and the people that brought them forward who had portrayed themselves as neutral scientists were, in fact, revealed as consultants to the lead industry. It took several years for the truth to out. But he triumphed.

DR. HERBERT NEEDLEMAN in  Kids and Chemicals: I knew I was right. I mean, I knew that the work was good. I knew that my colleagues who worked with me on it were honest people. But I realized that science is not always the polite intellectual activity that it appears to be; that environmental science sometimes becomes something closer to warfare.

BILL MOYERS: So that's why you called this  Lead Wars, I assume?

DAVID ROSNER: That's right.

GERALD MARKOWITZ: Yes.

DAVID ROSNER: That's where the title comes from. This is one of the, you know, tactics of this industry, of these industries to essentially control the regulators, to find ways of both undermining, in Herb Needleman's case, the integrity or the scientific integrity of the researcher by trying to attack his personality or his research, his data, but also trying to find ways of getting the regulatory agencies in government to see anyone who in any way cast doubt on their product as biased as opposed to a neutral observer. But it wasn't only lead. The more industries we look at, the more like other industries the lead story is.

 
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