How Did This [Lead] Happen?

The History of Lead Poisoning in America

It’s said that lead (Pb) has been used for over 3,000 years. Early archeological findings have discovered its use in plates, ceramic coatings, and other often used items. It’s ill health affects were first noted by Plato and Hippocrates and later in scientific research papers across Europe.

In the late 1800’s, it was banned in Europe, yet in America, in the early 1900’s it’s use in residential paint became a popular trend. So much that to this day, according to the CDC, it affects more than 4 Million households. Additionally, this known poison was added to gasoline by Standard Oil and GM in the 1920’s to cure engine knock (even when safe alternative methods had been proven successful).

We know now that leaded fumes, which were released in the air through the engine’s exhaust,  poisoned the air and leeched into the water and soil in every city in America and other countries.

Even before it was approved as an additive to gasoline, scientists, where the leaded gasoline was manufactured, began to literally go crazy and die. Enter the Looney Gas Story:

Men working at Standard Oil’s TEL (tetraethyl lead) plant quickly gave it the “loony gas” tag because anyone who spent much time handling the additive showed stunning signs of mental deterioration, from memory loss to a stumbling loss of coordination to  sudden twitchy bursts of rage. And then in October of 1924, workers in the TEL building began collapsing, going into convulsions, babbling deliriously. By the end of September, 32 of the 49 TEL workers were in the hospital; five of them were dead.

Even when there were more than obvious dangers to its use, Standard Oil’s spoke person, Frank Howard, assured it was completely safe. They did such a good job in their PR coverup, they tricked the government into believing it was harmless. Twenty years later, that same Standard Oil spoke’s person, would be forced to step down form his his position for collaborating with Nazi Germany–yet kept his position at Ethyl, continuing to manufacture leaded gasoline. It wasn’t until the late 80’s that leaded gasoline was banned.

According to, by the time it was banned in 1986, according to some estimates, so much lead had been deposited into soils, streets, building surfaces, that an estimated 68 million children would register toxic levels of lead absorption and some 5,000 American adults would die annually of lead-induced heart disease. As lead affects cognitive function, some neuroscientists also suggested that chronic lead exposure resulted in a measurable drop in IQ scores during the leaded gas era. And more recently, of course, researchers had suggested that TEL exposure and resulting nervous system damage may have contributed to violent crime rates in the 20th century.

Residential lead-based paint was banned in late 1978. Since then government agencies have developed protocols, rules and regulations to safely remove this very toxic and neurologically damaging element from homes and buildings alike.

However, lead is still used in both gasoline and paint. The gasoline in propeller planes is leaded-gasoline. What happens to the exhaust which exits into the air above cities nationwide? Why is this gasoline additive still allowed? Additionally, commercial lead paint has high concentrations of lead. That yellow stripe down the road and in the parking lot is full of lead paint. Let’s hope you always take your shoes off at the door.

Where else is lead lurking? Check out this list of leaded hazards.

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