Monday, March 11, 2013


By: Helen Epstein
Published: March 21, 2013, The New York Review of Books
Level of Difficulty:****
Thanks are due to my friend and colleague Füsun Savcı for providing this fascinating text.
·         What do you know about heavy metal poisoning? Which heavy metals are considered toxic and in what different ways is the toxin ingested?
·         What do you know about lead poisoning? What are the causes? What are the effects?
Now, google lead poisoning, click videos and listen to and take notes from some of them. Alternatively, do the same research on and  watch, listen and take notes.
Section 1
  1. Why has lead poisoning due to lead paint continued to be a problem despite the law passed in 1978?
  2. For what two reasons do we know that Max was placed in danger when he moved into his Baltimore flat?
  3. What kinds of safeguards were provided for the families that participated in the Baltimore study?
  4. Read the two paragraphs concerning the lead removal methods. What ethical mistake was made during the removal process?
  5. Read Denisa’s story carefully. Why was Denisa’s mother advised to wash her front steps more carefully and to keep Denisa from putting her hands in her mouth? Use your own words and your common sense.
  6. How confident is the writer that Denisa’s low IQ is related to lead poisoning? How do you know?
  7. Why was a study that endangered children allowed to take place? Be brief.
  8. There are two social consequences of the failure to tackle the problem of lead based paints. They are:
  9. What is the similarity between the Baltimore study and the Tusgegee experiment? Use your own words.
  10. The Baltimore Toddler study was reviewed and deemed ethical by the ethics committee at Johns Hopkins. What was the probable reason why the committee reached such a conclusion?
  11. Which of the three ethical oversights was considered the most serious? Why? Do you agree?
  12. The writer poses the following question in the text: “Why did the scientists then proceed to test two ineffective lead abatement methods?” What is the answer?
Section 2
  1. In what way is the case of the children at the turn of the 20th century and certain factory workers similar? Both groups suffered ………………………………………………………………………….
  2. The US market was awash with lead containing products despite the international action against them for two reasons. They were ………………………………………………………………………..
  3. The writer states that “gut renovating the entire house solves the problem”. Why is such an extreme measure the only option?
  4. How realistic is the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation concerning acceptable levels of lead in the blood stream? How do you know?
  5. What might be a possible reason why black children were six times more likely to have elevated lead levels? Use your head to state a possible logical answer.
  6. Efforts were made to sweep the emerging problem of lead poisoning under the carpet by both the government and industry. What specific measure was taken by the former?
  7. What overall conclusion can be drawn from the three paragraphs detailing the measures taken by industry and the government to hush up the issue of lead poisoning?
  8. Why was the plan to “remove lead from the nation’s homes” shelved?
Section 3
  1. What is the misconception concerning public health programs?
  2. What does “this lesson” refer to in the phrase “Across the Channel, this lesson was not lost on the English…”?
  3. What two factors have been the driving force behind some of the most urgent public health programs?
  4. The writer states that “They probably weren’t right about everything but when it came to lead poisoning, they probably were”. Why does he feel this way? You will need to tweak the text and a word of warning: this is a hard question!
  5. The complete lack of interest in the issue of lead poisoning to date may have led to……………..
  6. An alternative route Chisolm and Farley could have taken is …………………………………………………..
Write a reaction essay concerning what you have read. Use the suggestions below:
In your introduction, introduce the problem and the article
In the first developmental paragraph, summarize the information. This is a long text and you need to write a single paragraph so be very careful. The points you should cover are as follows: the widespread use of lead based paints despite the international ban, the public outcry and the action against it by industry and government, continued neglect despite scientific data. You should have no specific examples in your summary.
In the second developmental paragraph, state your own reaction to all you have read.
In your conclusion discuss what can be done now.
This riveting and deeply distressing text highlights a problem I personally was not aware of. I read the text with absolute horror and disbelief as I am sure you will too. One point I must make here concerns the number of questions: I prepare my material mainly for self study and with that in mind, I like to cover the main points; plus this is a long text. However, a few former students who have tried out this task assure me that the length of the text and the number of questions are not a problem as the text is so interesting.
  1. Because there was no adequate federal program to deal with it.
  2. The landlord ( Polakoff) had been cited at least ten times in the past for violating Baltimore’s lead paint regulations and several former tenants would later sue him.
  3. Their homes would receive one of three types of lead removal and their children would be given regular blood tests ( to see if their lead levels rose or fell)
  4. No one told Max’s mother of the hot spots ( areas of lead paint that could shed dangerous dust)
  5. Possible answer: Because the researchers knew of the blood test results and didn’t want to exacerbate the situation.
  6. Quite confident; it is quite likely that in her (Denisa’s) case lead poisoning was the cause.
  7. The government almost invariably chose to protect the businesses that produced and marketed paint.
  8. Their nation (US) could have been more intelligent; their nation could have been safer; the change from would to could is due to the way the question has been asked.
  9. Possible answer: they were both unethical or they both endangered the health of the subjects.
  10. Research like the toddler study was necessary if affordable solutions to the problems of the poor were to be found.
  11. The third because the researchers almost certainly knew in advance that level 1 and level 2 abatement would not protect the children from poisoning.
  12. These men could not effectively resist the momentum of government indifference to the poor, pervasive racial prejudice and careless decision making that influenced government policy making throughout the lead poisoning crisis.
  13. Suffered / were exposed to lead poisoning
  14. The US was the largest producer in the world, the lead industries association had grown into a political force.
  15. Because it is almost impossible to get rid of (lead in any other way).
  16. Not acceptable because studies have found that even infinitesimally low levels down to 1 or 2 micrograms per deciliter can reduce a child’s IQ and impair her self control and ability to organize thoughts.
  17. More black children might have been living in slum housing. This idea should naturally pass through the mind of a reader as he reads. The question is here to make sure you think as you read.
  18. The government sponsored public health campaigns characterized lead poisoning as a behavioral problem of the poor they called “pica”.
  19. The lead industry lied to the Americans for decades and the government did nothing to stop it.
  20. It was opposed by the lead industry, realtors, landlords, insurance companies and even some pediatricians
  21. That they are a bureaucratic business
  22. The fact that Napoleon made public health a priority
  23. Activist pressure and fear of insipient unrest
  24. Because he agrees that the poor themselves need to have a voice in shaping programs that fight against lead poisoning. Careful: the agreement only concerns lead poisoning so you need to limit the answer.
  25. Chisolm and Farley feeling that they had no choice but to try to figure out how many corners they could cut.
  26. Working with communities to use research findings more creatively

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