Emanuel Kaplan, 89, city health official, pioneered efforts against lead poisoning

April 14, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Emanuel Kaplan, who was called one of the "Heroes of Public Health" for his efforts to focus national attention on lead poisoning in children and other biochemical and infectious diseases, died Monday of heart failure at his Pikesville residence. He was 89.

Dr. Kaplan became intrigued by the high incidence of lead poisoning in children in Baltimore after he joined the city Health Department in 1934.

After studying the new dithizone technique for detecting blood lead that was developed by Dupont Chemical Co. and German chemists, the Health Department, under his direction, began a free diagnostic program that assessed the lead levels of anyone suspected of having the disease. It was the first such program in the United States.

Dr. Kaplan and co-workers also developed a rapid screening test for lead in paint scrapings. The data they collected led to the recognition of lead-paint poisoning as a serious national health issue.

"This revolutionary program, instituted in 1935, was an immediate success and provided data that forced public health officers to recognize the seriousness of the epidemic," said a tribute by the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in recognizing Dr. Kaplan as one of the 20th century's "Heroes of Public Health" on the occasion of the school's 75th anniversary in 1991.

"He also succeeded in convincing officials that in addition to infectious diseases, there were a lot of biochemical diseases that the state ought to pay attention to. He really was a man ahead of his time," said Dr. J. Mehsen Joseph, director of laboratory administration at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Dr. Kaplan also introduced in Baltimore and Maryland tests that assured the proper pasteurization of milk, elimination of unsanitary conditions in food handling, and detection of sickle cell anemia and other blood disorders.

"In 1965, he developed a test that screened newborn babies for hereditary diseases," said Dr. Joseph.

The test -- now done nationally -- requires two drops of blood from the infant's heel.

"From that test, we were able to look for signs of eight different disorders and then recommend treatment," Dr. Joseph said.

Born in Clearfield, Pa., and raised in East Baltimore, Dr. Kaplan was a 1927 graduate of City College. He earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the Johns Hopkins University in 1931 and a doctor of science degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1934.

Dr. Kaplan, whose field was public health chemistry, was chief of the Baltimore Health Department's Division of Chemistry from 1934 to 1956 and assistant director of its Bureau of Laboratories from 1956 to 1965.

That year, the laboratories were merged into the Maryland Department of Health, and he served as the agency's chief of the division of biochemistry until 1975, when he retired.

In 1934, he married Dora Yaniger, who died in 1975.

He was an active member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville, where for many years he served on the board of directors and chaired the school committee.

For 22 years, he was general chairman of the Beth Tfiloh Brotherhood Sunday Morning Forums and was honorary president of the Brotherhood. He was also a member of the Baltimore Board of Jewish Education and the Baltimore Jewish Community Relations Council.

Dr. Kaplan was the author of more than 30 scientific papers and was a fellow of the American Public Health Association and a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Association of Clinical Chemists and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

In an interview with The Sun several years ago, he reiterated the rules of health advocated by a Chinese centenarian.

"His rules were: `Keep a quite heart, walk sprightly like a pigeon, sit like a tortoise and sleep like a dog,' " Dr. Kaplan said.

Services will be held at 3 p.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

He is survived by a son, Alan Kaplan of Los Angeles; a daughter, Elaine Freeman of Ruxton; a brother, Louis Kaplan of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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