Bruce Lanphear

October 19, 2011

Crime of the Century: The failure to prevent the lead poisoning pandemic

Bruce Lanphear is both outspoken and an educator, but the 2011 recipient of SFU's Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy can also quickly flip an interview on the interviewer, in this instance, to the subject of Rachel Carson.

"Have you heard of Rachel Carson? How old are you?" asks Lanphear, caught in mid-preparation for his Plagues, Pollutants and Poverty: The Origins and Evolution of Public Health class he is offering this fall as Professor with the Faculty of Health Sciences. "[Carson] effectively started the environmental movement in the 1950's, she talked about pesticides, air and water pollution, she blazed a trail, but in a lot of ways we still haven't progressed."

Carson was a trailblazer in advancing the global environmental movement and perhaps Lanphear is channeling her spirit in his efforts to protect the world's children from the devastating health effects of lead. Since his first major study in 1994, Lanphear has been consistently fighting to reduce lead in our environment in an effort to reduce preventable illness.

In 2008, Lanphear was involved with the first national study that linked childhood lead exposure with conduct disorder, while another study demonstrated that childhood lead exposure was a risk factor for criminal arrests, especially arrests for violent behaviours in young adults.

"I was raised by parents who not only believed but expected you to change the world," says Lanphear, who moved away from the study of tropical medicine and infectious disease in 1992 to focus on lead. "[Lead] was and still is a major environmental risk factor affecting children. It's a distinct poison that causes behavioral effects in children, but there are still millions of homes that contain lead based paint, we have homes that have lead pipes that are contaminating water, there is often at times a failure to learn."