Pandemics and Lead Poisoning: The Morbidity Weekly Report in 1957

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the news cycle is filled with journalism on the crisis--the spread of the virus, a potential vaccine, the deaths. In 1957, the newspapers were reporting on the H2N2 influenza pandemic, a virus which ended up killing more than 1 million people worldwide, according to the CDC.

The document we are highlighting today is composed of a newspaper clipping attached to a letter from the Lead Industries Association. In the U.S. Public Health Service's weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report from May 3, 1957, there are two stories side by side: one of influenza and one of lead poisoning. Like the many who are scoffing at the severity and reality of the coronavirus today, in 1957, the Lead Industries Association also called this story of lead poisoning fake.


The paper reports that three members of a family in Louisianan experienced "abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea" and were diagnosed as suffering from lead poisoning by a medical source.

In the letter from Lead Industries Association, this case was branded as "nonsense."

The letter not only branded this incident of lead poisoning as false, but it also lamented its publication as further deluding people.

"As Pinto also says, 'unfortunately publication in this U. S. Public Health Service bulletin will make many people believe the tale.'"

Here, Lead Industries Association presents an apalling denial of lead poisoning. It ignores the suffering of the sick, medical diagnoses, as well as the U.S. government. In many ways, one can see the same thing happening today: the health of people is being weighed against the economy and the "lives" of industries.