Skip to Main Content

This Lead is Killing Us: A History of Citizens Fighting Lead Poisoning in Their Communities

Direct comments to:


This guide is adapted with permission from the This Lead is Killing Us exhibit guide created by the Martin and Gail Press Health Professions Division Library of Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Visit the original resource.

Need Help?

For individual research help, schedule an appointment to meet with a librarian.

About the Exhibit

Coming to your NOVA Campus Library


The National Library of Medicine produced This Lead Is Killing Us: A History of Citizens Fighting Lead Poisoning in Their Communities, guest curated by historian and educator Richard M. Mizelle, Jr, PhD (University of Houston).

The traveling banner exhibition and companion website explore the story of citizen action taken against an environmental danger. Lead exposure can cause neurological problems and sometimes even death; yet this metal has been pervasive in many aspects of American life for over a century. Historically, mining, battery manufacturing, smelting, and enameling industries included lead in their production processes, impacting factory workers and consumers. Manufacturers added lead to household paints and gasoline, endangering the health of families and polluting the air through exhaust fumes. To protect themselves against the dangers of lead poisoning, scientists, families, and individuals opposed industries, housing authorities, and elected officials.

This Lead is Killing Us includes an education component featuring a K-12 lesson plan that challenges students to examine historical cases of lead poisoning through primary and secondary sources. A digital gallery features a curated selection of fully digitized items from NLM Digital Collections that showcase numerous historical scientific studies and reports about the dangers of lead.


The National Library of Medicine produced this exhibition and companion website.

Visit the Exhibit at NOVA Libraries

January 17-20: Medical Education Campus

Location:  3rd floor atrium across from MEC Library, Room 341

Programming: Community and family-focused resources for preventing lead poisoning.

January 23-27: Annandale Campus

Location: 3rd floor of the CFH building, the Library

Programming: Global and equity-focused resources for protecting water as a resource

January 30 - February 3: Loudoun Campus

Location: LC 200

Programming: Community and family-focused resources for preventing lead poisoning.

February 6-10: Woodbridge Campus

Location:  Library, WAS 230

Programming:  Passive display and 'scavenger hunt' activity relaying the historical significance of lead poisoning.

February 13-17: Alexandria Campus

Location: AA 232


February 20-24: Manassas Campus



Exhibit images

The message “lead helps to guard your health” responded to growing public concern over lead’s toxicity in industrial trades and paint products, as described by industrial health pioneer Alice Hamilton.

Ad placed by the National Lead Company, The National Geographic Magazine, November 1923

Courtesy U.S. National Library of Medicine

During the 1960s and 1970s, environmental movements led to increased governmental action, including publications that warned parents of lead in homes.

Lead Paint Poisoning in Children...a Problem in Your Community? U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1973

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

Physician and public health activist Alice Hamilton published a landmark investigative report about lead poisoning faced by industrial workers. Her background as a pathologist provided the expertise to critique what she termed the “dangerous trades.”

Alice Hamilton, ca. early 1900s

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

Printing was a dangerous trade. Workers manipulated individual lead “slugs,” or pieces of metal used for spacing, with their bare hands. They were exposed to lead dust and fumes created by the printing machines.

Workers operate a linotype machine, Hygiene of the Printing Trades, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1917

Courtesy National Library of Medicine