University of Rochester

Rochester Review
September–October 2010
Vol. 73, No. 1

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A Motivation to Write

I hugely enjoyed your well written piece on [psychology professors] Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (“What Motivates You?”, July-August). I was one of their grad students, getting my doctorate in clinical psych in the late 1980s. Their theory and their thinking has been one of the most influential and powerful influences on my life as a private practice family clinician, as a father of two, and as a man wanting to live fully and to my potential. The care and skill these two take in mentoring their students for a life of high professional and personal motivation with little regret is something worth studying in and of itself.

Congrats, Ed and Rich!

Steve Freilich ’93 (PhD)
Medway, Mass.

I am an avid reader of both Review and The Economist weekly news magazine. Both the July-August issue of Review and the July 10th–16th issue of The Economist had references to motivation. Namely the engaging Review article “What Motivates You?” describing the groundbreaking work of professors Deci and Ryan and The Economist’s announcement of a Human Potential conference in New York City this fall with the tag line, “Is Money a Poor Incentive?”

I was disappointed not to find professors Deci and Ryan among the 50-odd speakers at The Economist's conference, particularly when much of their research has to do with money as an actual demotivator. Perhaps The Economist could be classy enough to invite them to be speakers as well.

James Rees ’57, ’65 (MS)
Pittsford, N.Y.

Getting the Lead Out

Thank you for documenting the praiseworthy and much needed efforts of the people in the University community working to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in Rochester children (“Home Work,” July-August). In addition to the necessity of dealing with the continuing effects of lead poisoning on contaminated individuals as well as its social impacts, the sad truth is that most of it could have been avoided.

Australia banned lead in interior paint in 1897; France, Belgium, and Austria in 1909. The League of Nations Charter adopted by most Western nations in 1922 banned its use. By 1928, even the most backward European nations participated in the elimination of lead in interior paint. The inherent dangers were universally known. In the United States, which rejected the treaty, free market capitalism had 50 years to do the right thing on its own. But thanks to the power of the American lead lobby, lead in interior paint was not completely eliminated until 1978 in the United States, the last industrialized country to do so. How much of Rochester’s now deteriorating, contaminated housing stock was painted with lead paint after the rest of the civilized world had banned its use? Most of it.

Maybe sadder still is that industry and business groups continue to spend millions yearly on lobbying, and think tanks crank out rationales for resisting reasonable and modest regulation of products, ingredients, and practices that are unhealthy, unsafe, and even potentially deadly. And their political enablers are all too happy to oblige. So much for lessons that might have been learned from the lead story.

So in 2010, the University is helping to remediate a problem that could have been avoided if free markets really were capable of self-regulating and the problem had been nipped in the bud 85 years ago. It’s wonderful that the University is making this contribution but a great shame that it has to.

Bill Glasner ’69
Victor, N.Y.

I read with interest the article “Home Work.” On one hand, the progress and commitment of the University and community partners are to be commended. On the other, lead is still an issue 40 years after I was a resident in pediatrics.

I remember finding a lead level of over 100 μg/dL in a child at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon in early 1971. After a frantic and futile search to find a public health person to contact the family that late on a Friday afternoon, I spent a large part of the weekend trying without success to find the family. However, on Monday the mother called me, bearing fruit to my leaving messages in every business in the area they lived in.

Although we were told the apartment had been abated, a community advocacy agency found lead in the stairwell where the child often played. The city housing folks refused to move the child because the property was going to be razed within the next six months. I arranged for a Community Legal Services lawyer to sue the city, resulting in a move to a new home. The mother became one of my loyal patients.

When I left my residency she told me that she had never kept an appointment with any other person in her life. The lesson she taught me about what happens when the priorities of the patient and family are met was a lasting legacy for my practice of medicine for my entire career. Serving the needs of that child and mother should have been easier.

I salute the progress in addressing lead in the Rochester community and the role of the University and its partners.

Barry Lachman ’72M (Res)

The article on childhood lead poisoning brought back memories of my time on the medical school faculty over 40 years ago. The picture of Dr. [Katrina] Korfmacher collecting wipe samples was particularly meaningful.

Research conducted at the University during the 1960s and ’70s provided some key insights into our understanding of this serious threat to children’s health. In the 1960s, knowledge of the causes, effects, and prevention of childhood lead poisoning was sparse and incomplete. There was not an awareness that brain damage might occur in children from even very low levels of lead. Acute lead encephalopathy was well known, a devastating condition that affected young children with blood lead levels in excess of 150 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL). The child usually presented with seizures, difficult to control. Half of the children died and the majority of those who survived were left with severe mental impairment. The most common story was that of a toddler living in deteriorated inner city housing, who repetitively ingested lead-containing paint chips (they had a mildly sweet taste) from inside or outside their home. One such fatal case was discussed at Strong Memorial Hospital Pediatric Grand Rounds in the late 1960s. A Monroe County Health Department official in the audience was asked how many children in Rochester had elevated blood lead levels. He acknowledged that no such information was available, but speculated that it must be uncommon, considering the rarity of lead encephalopathy. A pediatric resident, Dr. Arthur Kopelman ’63M (MD), ’64M (Res), and I were intrigued and decided to investigate further. With the parents’ permission we drew blood samples from a number of children living in the Joseph Avenue neighborhood and found that many of them had levels above 40 μg/dL. A more systematic study was clearly merited.

In 1971 Dr. James Sayre, a pediatric faculty member, and I collected venous blood samples from a random sample of 171 children between one and six years of age living in the Seventh Ward. Their lead levels averaged a strikingly high 44 μg/dL and, even more surprising, almost none of the children had levels below 20 μg/dL. To better define the problem, the staff at the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center (which had opened just a few years earlier) collected levels on 500 children in well-child visits over the next year. For comparison, we also drew blood lead levels on 50 adults living in the same neighborhood and on 30 suburban children.

The results on the inner city children confirmed our earlier findings: their blood levels averaged in the mid-40s, with almost none below 20 μg/dL. In contrast, both the inner city adults and the suburban children had an average level of 20 μg/dL, with none over 30μg/dL. These results were puzzling: something was affecting virtually all preschool children in the Rochester inner city, but sparing adults living in the same environment, and sparing the same age children who lived in the suburbs. It was unlikely that so many of the children were habitually eating paint chips: We had asked the parents about the habit when we drew the child’s blood, and most denied observing that behavior.

We pondered other possible sources of lead. There were no industrial sources of lead in the area, and tap water samples taken from 17 neighborhood homes showed no elevated lead levels. Food sources seemed unlikely. No air sampling had been done, but if elevated that should have affected the adults as well as the children. (We later learned that ambient air lead levels from the lead-containing gasoline in use at the time undoubtedly did affect the whole population, accounting in part for the average lead level of 20μg/dL in both adults and children).

And then a serendipitous event occurred. The Strong Memorial Hospital chemistry laboratory had asked us to draw finger stick samples along with the venous blood in some children, hoping to standardize a capillary blood lead test, not available at the time. We got an excited call from the laboratory director who told us that a number of the capillary blood samples tested well over 100μg/dL, a dangerously toxic level. We checked the comparable venous results on those children and found them considerably lower.

“Forget taking capillary samples,” he said, “You’re obviously not cleaning off their hands before obtaining the blood.” Jim Sayre and I looked at each other. What was lead doing on their hands? After thinking about it (longer than it should have taken) the answer seemed obvious. Peeling lead-containing paint could have crumbled and been ground into dust over time and contaminated the floors, walls, and windowsills of the inner city homes. Toddlers sit and crawl on the floor, and commonly stand peering out the window with hands on the windowsills. Their hands, of course, are always in their mouths. Adults living in the same environment are much less likely to get their hands dirty on the floor and less likely to transfer it to their mouths. And although suburban youngsters have similar mouthing habits to inner city children, their environment is unlikely to contain lead.

We had a hypothesis that could explain the data. What we lacked was confirmation that the house dust contained high levels of lead. We consulted Dr. Jaroslav Vostal ’68M (Flw) from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, an expert chemist. With Dr. Vostal’s help, we devised a practical method of collecting samples, one that would reflect the amount of lead available to a child. Using a small alcohol-impregnated towel, we wiped selected square-foot areas within the home where the child was said to play, and from their hands. Dr. Vostal designed a method to extract lead from the towel samples. We then obtained wipe samples in the homes of children who had blood lead levels in excess of 40μg/dL, including wipes of their hands, and compared them to comparable samples from suburban children, whose blood levels were well below 20μg/dL. The results were clear. Of the 42 inner city homes inspected, the average lead dust level was 167 ug compared to 27 ug in the suburban homes. Hand wipe samples showed a similar difference. We had identified a ubiquitous source for the lead and a logical mechanism by which the child could ingest it. The study was published in 1974, and was consistent with data that was beginning to accumulate from other cities. Although lead contaminated dust was not the only source of intake for the children, it certainly was one important contributing factor.

Over the next years, Dr. Sayre and I continued to work on this problem. The wipe technique became widely accepted and, as your article illustrates, is still in use as a screening measure. Paradoxically, even though children’s blood levels have declined dramatically since the 1970s, evidence continues to accumulate of the toxicity of ever lower levels. Childhood lead poisoning remains with us. I am pleased to see that Rochester is still active in devising methods to combat this vexing problem.

Evan Charney ’63M (Res)
East Falmouth, Mass.

The writer was a faculty member at the School of Medicine and Dentistry from 1964 to 1975—Editor.

Et Tu, Tofu?

In 1974, we held an Orwellian themed “1984 Week,” filled with activities aimed at predicting what life would be like 10 years in the future. A time capsule was buried with letters to be mailed in 10 years, and one of the great debates was who would put the correct amount of postage on their envelope.

As part of the celebration, we had “foods of the future” in the dining halls with a focus on sustainable and eco-friendly cuisine. One of the items was a white, spongy cubed substance called “tofu,” and no one quite knew what to make of it, or what to do with it.

Fast forward to 2010, and a visit to Rochester with my wife and son to check out prospective colleges. We were treated to lunch in Danforth, and on the salad bar . . . cubed tofu, now in the mainstream. (I need also to mention that the “olive loaf” popular in my college days was not to be found—this is a good thing!) The University is visionary in so many ways, and although this may not be as profound as lasers or super computers, the planners of this event were prescient about culinary trends as well!

Richard Rubin ’77
Slingerlands, N.Y.

For more about news from Dining Services, click here; and for lasers, here—Editor.

Remembering a College Bowler

I noted with sadness the passing of Donald Feinfeld ’65 (In Memoriam, May-June), my teammate on the 1965 University’s GE College Bowl Team that stunned the country with its victory over a University of Tennessee team that had won four matches in a row. The Tennessee team needed just one more victory to clinch a permanent trophy and consisted of four clean-cut, all-American kids, all of whom the audience had gotten to know over the four weeks.

Our squad included three freshmen and was a group of hairy kids from New York City and upstate New York. Our only fans in the studio audience, as I recall, were my parents and my two uncles, who all cheered loudly every time we got a question right. No one expected us to win, but we prevailed nonetheless, perhaps helping to enhance the University’s academic reputation—or at least its students’ skills at trivia. Whatever the impact of the show, I was sorry to hear that Don had passed away.

Barry Bennett ’65
Frenso, Calif.

Department of Amplification

I’ve read for years the agreeable reminiscences of my classmate H. E. (Kit) Crissey Jr. ’66, and have been most remiss in not adding a few of my own. But now there’s another reason for writing: to offer a few “friendly amendments” to his letter in the May-June issue.

Kit says I switched my major to linguistics, but it was actually comparative literature; I went on to a doctorate in classics at the University of Texas in 1972 and a modest career at the University of Illinois at Chicago, retiring in 1999. Strange as it sounds, I’ve published nine scholarly books, seven of them since that date. A little more embarrassingly, Kit puts me in the same category as the late George Schlein ’64 and the recently profiled Paul Frommer ’65 (“Avatar of Language,” March-April), calling us “three gifted pianists.”

Alas, I had (and continue to have) no such gift, as was made abundantly evident in a May 1966 performance of Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto (K. 488), which Kit mentions. I did write a first-movement cadenza and some ornamentation in the Adagio, gestures of youthful chutzpah which, though rather rare back then, aren’t quite enough to justify saying that I played my own edition. (As part of my preparation, I purchased a microfilm of Mozart’s original manuscript from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and subsequently sold it at cost (a mere $8, as I recall!) to the legendary Ruth Watanabe ’52E (PhD) of the Sibley Library at Eastman. I’m pleased to report that David Peter Coppen, head of Special Collections at Sibley, has assured me that the microfilm remains available.

I owe virtually all my knowledge of, and dedication to, classical music to the priceless experience of being around serious “amateur” musicians like Kit, George, Paul, and especially my three-year roommate Steve Moshman ’65, who created and sustained the University’s Baroque Ensemble almost entirely through his prodigious command of the repertory and boundless enthusiasm.

So I agree with those who say that you can go to college and get a degree, but some of the most precious learning takes place outside the classroom.

James Dee ’66
Austin, Texas

In a letter [July-August] about the earlier article “101 Things to Do before You Graduate” [May-June], Stacy Stevens ’53 claims that, while manager of the basketball team, he heard coach Louis Alexander encourage the team “at halftime of a losing effort against Calvin Murphy and his Niagara bunch.”

Murphy, a three time all-American at Niagara, graduated in 1970, and was only five years old when Stevens graduated from Rochester.

T. Alan Wyle ’70
Mays Landing, N.J.

We apologize for mixing up the history of Niagara’s basketball team. While Murphy’s success in college and in the NBA are memorable, during the early 1950s, Niagara was paced by Ed Fleming, one of the team’s all-time leading scorers, who went on to a professional basketball career of his own.

Review welcomes letters and will print them as space permits. Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity. Unsigned letters cannot be used. Send letters to Rochester Review, 22 Wallis Hall, P.O. Box 270044, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0044;