Herbert L. Needleman, M.D.
NEEDLEMAN: Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., a pediatrician, psychiatrist, and public health hero, died on July 18, 2017, in Pittsburgh. He was 89 years old. Dr. Needleman leaves a legacy of improved health for children across this country and the world. He was internationally renowned for pioneering scientific research on the effects of lead in children. His research linked low levels of lead exposure to lowered I.Q., poor school performance, and behavioral problems, including juvenile delinquency. Dr. Needleman’s work played a critical role in the United States government’s decision to remove lead from gasoline, a move that is credited with drastically reducing blood lead levels of American children. Dr. Needleman received numerous awards for his work, including the Heinz Award for the Environment, the Charles A. Dana Award, the Prince Mahidol Award of Thailand, the Ramazzini award of Carpi, Italy, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Chancellor’s Award for Community Service. Born into an immigrant family of Philadelphia pickle makers, Dr. Needleman was the first in his family to attend college. He went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. Needleman completed residencies in both pediatrics and psychiatry. He served as a captain in the United States Army. Known to many as a formidable advocate for the disadvantaged, Dr. Needleman had a strong sense of social justice and a big, caring heart. It was these characteristics that led him to abandon private medical practice and devote his life to protecting children from harm. In 1966, he founded and led the Committee of Responsibility to Save War-Burned and War-Injured Vietnamese Children (known as COR), an organization of American doctors, scientists, clergy and other concerned citizens who brought injured Vietnamese children to the United States for medical care. In 1967, Dr. Needleman and fellow pediatrician Benjamin Spock were jailed during an anti-war protest at the Pentagon. Around this time, Dr. Needleman began his study of the effects of low levels of lead in children, ultimately publishing more than 80 peer-reviewed scientific papers and a parenting book on the topic. During his career, Dr. Needleman held academic positions in the medical schools of Temple University, Harvard University and the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Needleman was sharply criticized by the lead industry, whose business was damaged by the government’s increase regulation of lead and efforts to clean up lead-polluted areas and houses. Attempts to discredit Dr. Needleman culminated in allegations of scientific misconduct in 1991. After extensive investigation and a lengthy hearing, no misconduct was found. Dr. Needleman’s research has been replicated numerous times and is the foundation for later studies showing harmful effects at even lower levels of exposure. Dr. Needleman is survived by his beloved wife of 54 years, Roberta, his three children Samuel, Joshua (Yael) and Sara Kline (Stephan); seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Services were held at Rodef Shalom Congregation. Interment at West View Cemetery of Rodef Shalom Congregation. Contributions may be made to the Herbert Needleman Memorial c/o the International Society for Children’s Health and the Environment (ISCHE) Attn. WJ Weiser, 1100 E. Woodfield Road, Suite 350, Schaumburg, IL 60173 or to the Anathan Club of the Jewish Association on Aging, 300 JHF Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15217. Arrangements entrusted to Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc.