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Brush with Death

'Brush with Death' cover image

Brush with Death

A Social History of Lead Poisoning

Winner of the Arthur Viseltear Award for Outstanding Book in the History of Public Health from the American Public Health Association

Selected by Choice Magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

During the twentieth century, lead poisoning killed thousands of workers and children in the United States. Thousands who survived lead poisoning were left physically crippled or were robbed of mental faculties and years of life. In Brush with Death, social historian Christian Warren offers the first comprehensive history of lead poisoning in the United States. Focusing on lead paint and leaded gasoline, Warren distinguishes three primary modes of exposure—occupational, pediatric, and environmental. This threefold perspective permits a nuanced exploration of the regulatory mechanisms, medical technologies, and epidemiological tools that arose in response to lead poisoning.

Today, many children undergo aggressive "deleading" treatments when their blood-lead levels are well below the average blood-lead levels found in urban children in the 1950s. Warren links the repeated redefinition of lead poisoning to changing attitudes toward health, safety, and risk. The same changes that transformed the social construction of lead poisoning also transformed medicine and health care, giving rise to modern environmentalism and fundamentally altered jurisprudence.