Sunday, December 09, 2007

The story of leaded gasoline

The Philip Morris ("Altria") story is pretty familiar. Buy off scientists, lie, addict children, etc. If there's a Hell, Philip Morris has meetings there.

I didn't know the story of leaded gasoline though, not till I read DI's review. By the 1920s the science was very clear that lead was a dangerous neurotoxin. Europe was restricting its use.

America put lead in gasoline, and kept it there until the 1970s...
Damn Interesting » The Ethyl-Poisoned Earth

... Upon learning that automotive fuel was the source of the contamination, Dr. Patterson began to publish materials discussing the toxic metal's ubiquity and its probable ill effects. In order to demonstrate the increase of lead in the environment, Patterson proposed taking core samples from pack ice in Greenland, and testing the lead content of each layer– a novel concept which had not been previously attempted. The experiment worked, and the results showed that airborne lead had been negligible before 1923, and that it had climbed precipitously ever since. In 1965, when the tests were conducted, lead levels were roughly 1,000 times higher than they had been in the pre-Ethyl era. He also compared modern bone samples to that of older human remains, and found that modern humans' lead levels were hundreds of times higher.

The Ethyl corporation allegedly offered him lucrative employment in exchange for more favorable research results, but Dr. Patterson declined. For a time thereafter, Patterson found himself ostracized from government and corporate sponsored research projects, including the a National Research Council panel on atmospheric lead contamination. The Ethyl corporation had powerful friends, including a Supreme Court justice, members of the US Public Health Service, and the mighty American Petroleum Institute. Nevertheless, Patterson was unrelenting, and the resulting rise in scientific and public awareness eventually led to the Clean Air Act of 1970, and a staged phaseout of leaded gasoline. Ethyl and Du Pont sued the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that "actual harm" must be demonstrated rather than just "significant risk," an effort which successfully prolonged lead additives' life by another decade...

Alas, it doesn't sound like Dr. Patterson got a Nobel for his work ...

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