The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster

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Overview

In The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster, Werner Troesken looks at a long-running environmental and public health catastrophe: 150 years of lead pipes in local water systems and the associated sickness, premature death, political inaction, and social denial. The harmful effects of lead water pipes became apparent almost as soon as cities the world over began to install them.
Doctors and scientists noted cases of acute illness and death attributable to lead in public water beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, and an editorial in the New York Herald called for the city to study the matter after a bizarre illness made headlines in 1868. But officials took no action for many years. New York City, for example, did not take any steps to reduce lead levels in water until 1992, long after the most serious damage had been done. By then, in any case, much of the old lead pipe had been replaced with safer materials.Troesken examines the health effects of lead exposure, analyzing cases from New York City, Boston, and Glasgow and many smaller towns in
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and England. He draws on period accounts, government reports, court decisions, and economic and demographic analysis to document the widespread nature of the problem,
the recognized health effects--particularly for pregnant women and young children--and official intransigence. He presents an accessible overview of the old and new science of lead exposure--explaining, for example, why areas with soft water suffered more harmful effects than areas with hard water. And he gives us compelling and vivid accounts of the people and politics involved. The effects of lead in water continue to be felt; many older houses still have lead service pipes. The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster is essential reading for understanding this past and ongoing public health problem.

The MIT Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Each chapter is wonderfully written in accessible language, and the author is meticulous with attributions and supporting evidence." Leonardo Trasande JAMA

The MIT Press

Library Journal
This is a 150-year chronological history of one of the most overlooked health problems of modern times-the prevalence of lead pipes in municipal water supplies and the public health consequences of this dilemma. Troesken (history, Univ. of Pittsburgh) cites cases as early as 1860 showing that corrosive lead pipes in the water systems of New York, Boston, Glasgow, and other cities and towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and England were responsible for fetal, childhood, and adult diseases that mystified doctors and public health officials. Doctors who identified lead as the culprit and made their findings public were ignored or chastised. Neglect and duplicity by political officials who assured the public that lead piping posed no threat to their health allowed this problem to languish until the 1990s, when lead pipes were banned or replaced with safer materials. However, Troesken warns that water lead levels are still a concern in municipalities in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, particularly in older buildings and water systems that have not been upgraded. A real shocker. Recommended for all public health collections.-Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262701259
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2008
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Werner Troesken is Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and Faculty Research
Associate at NBER. He is the author of Water, Race, and Disease (MIT Press,
2004).
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     ix
Prologue: Exhuming Michael Galler     1
The Significance of the Small     9
A House for Erasmus     25
Fixing Alice     51
The Latent History of Eclampsia     77
The Secret of Dr. Porritt's Society     99
A False Sense of Simplicity     123
Responsibility in the Court of the Absurd     141
The Legend of Loch Katrine     169
Building on the Past     201
Estimating the Effects of Lead Water Pipes on Infant and Fetal Mortality     209
A Statistical Supplement to The Menace and Geography of Eclampsia     243
The Correlates of Lead Solvency     251
Notes     255
References     285
Index     311
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