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Unleaded! Slope mom Denworth back with toxic new book

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Lydia Denworth was just another Park Slope mom, journalist and civic leader when she got hold of a story — the pernicious history of lead and decades of failure to fix the toxic nightmare — that wouldn’t let go.

But as Faulkner famously wrote, the past isn’t dead, it’s not even past — especially where lead poisoning is concerned. Last week, for example, Nordstrom had to send back 30,000 lead-tainted girls’ shoes back to China, a chilling reminder of the lead paint scare that ravaged Mattel — and its customers — in 2007.

Not a bad week to be selling a book called, “Toxic Truth: A Scientist, a Doctor, and the Battle Over Lead.”

“Sad to say, but lead is creeping back into things kids can get a hold of, and it’s alarming,” Denworth said.

Worse, she said, lead is still hiding in plain site in our own homes, especially those built before the ban on lead-based paint in 1970. As Denworth is quick to remind, your kid is often just one thin layer of water-based paint away from contact with the lead paints of the past.

“Brooklyn is a lead belt,” said Denworth, who has written for Newsweek and People, and was the president of the Park Slope Civic Council before leaving to write her book. “I guarantee you that only new construction in Park Slope doesn’t have lead.

“How many fewer children would be affected today if we only had to worry about [lead in] houses built before 1920 instead of all houses built before 1970?” she asked.

Conveniently enough, her book has the answer.

“Toxic Truth” centers on a doctor and a scientist who fought to expose one of the biggest public health crises of the 20th century — all along flummoxed by government officials who knew lead was poisonous decades but balked at banning it.

As a mother of three, she immediately saw the doctor, Herb Needleman, as a hero worthy of a book-length treatment.

“When I first heard about him, I was a new mom, and it outraged me that no one listened to him,” she said. “I was naïve and a little simplistic in my thinking, but I was still right to be outraged.

“People knew lead was bad way back to 1904, but it’s outrageous that it took [until the 1970s] to get it banned!” she added.

Denworth will be reading from “Toxic Truth” at the Park Slope Barnes and Noble [267 Seventh Ave., (718) 832-9066] on Saturday, April 4 at 2 pm. She will also read at Union Hall [702 Union St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues, (718) 638-4400] on Sunday, April 12 at 5 pm.

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