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Brush With Death: A Social History of Lead Poisoning

Jeffrey P. Brosco, MD, PhD, Reviewer
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155(8):975. doi:10.1001/archpedi.155.8.975.
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In 1956, J. Edmund Bradley and colleagues reported that 40% of children attending a well-child clinic in Baltimore had blood lead levels exceeding 50 µg/dL.1 Interestingly, most pediatricians in the late 1950s were not shocked by Bradley's report: after all, only 5% of Baltimore children had blood levels higher than 80 µg/dL, then thought to be the threshold for lead toxicity. Soon, other researchers had replicated Bradley's finds in other American cities. Still, no widespread concern arose regarding lead exposure. In sharp contrast, however, most European nations had eliminated lead from paint in the 1910s. Why, we might ask, did the United States tolerate so much environmental lead for so long?


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