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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A history of "safe" products, lead

A new series!

A new series I will be making, called "A History of 'Safe' Products" will show a history of US industry defending poisonous products. It will also show how the US gov't has a long history of doing too little too late when it comes to citizens' health.

Whenever you have industry vigorously defending a product with millions of dollars, you know something is wrong. Past examples of items industry defended as "safe" for people and the environment: asbestos, lead (in paint, gasoline, water supply pipes), cigarettes, phthalates, coal emissions, thalidomide, etc.


Lead is generally believed to play a  part in the disintegration of Roman culture, though there were many issues that lead to the end of Rome, such as corruption, hubris, poor leadership, waste, inefficiency, and lead as a poison. The same is going on in the US today with high levels of corruption, waste, selfishness by leadership, and poisoning from a variety of sources like phthalates, artificial sweeteners, chemicals in meats and produce, hormones and unmetabolized drugs in the water supply (water companies are not required to remove these contaminants) etc.

OSHA says: "(Lead) Workers may develop a variety of ailments, such as neurological effects, gastrointestinal effects, anemia, and kidney disease. See the Health Effects section of this webpage for more information."

The CDC says there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, but the EPA says lead is fine and dandy. Even the US gov't can't agree about lead levels. When in doubt, be safer. Lead causes irreversible brain and other damage.  But the CDC doesn't regulate water, the EPA does.

EPA: If more than 10 percent of tap water samples exceed the lead action level of 15 parts per billion, then water systems are required to take additional actions including...

CDC says: No safe blood level has been identified and all sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled or eliminated. Lead concentrations in drinking water should be below the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 parts per billion.

Please note: It's very difficult to prove causation, but showing correlation is the next best thing. Correlation means the issue should be taken seriously, and more detailed studies should be done.

Blood lead levels

As early as 1943 a study showed that children eating lead paint chips showed correlation with behavior problems, learning, and intelligence problems. Yet US industry fought for decades to keep lead in paint and other products. In 1971, lead-based house paint was phased out. Houses painted before then could still contain lead, mostly likely covered by newer coats of paint, but still there. This same link also has a timeline of the effects of lead that researchers found.Poor people, in older housing, are still exposed to lead paint chips that have fallen off painted sources. Children don't know any better and can still eat lead paint chips. Poor areas also have older schools with lead pipes for certain parts of the water supplies.Thus poor people are affected the most.

Lead in gasoline (tetraethyl lead) was found to reduce engine knock. In 1923 Du Pont started making TEL and in the same year gasoline with lead started being sold. In 1965 a report found that high levels of environmental lead were caused by lead gasoline. When the lead gasoline burns, it is sent out in the air as exhaust, and people breathe it in. The lungs are especially good at absorbing many substances into the blood stream. That's the purpose of lungs: absorb oxygen into the bloodstream. In 1972 the EPA gave notice that lead gasoline would be phased out, but lawsuits by industry kept this from happening until 1980.

In 2010, Innospec, based in Britain, under the name of Associated Octel, admitted that it paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Iraq and Indonesia to keep selling TEL.

A simple activated carbon filter (like a Brita) can remove 99% of lead from water. For $35, it's worth it.

Symptoms of lead exposure

  1. Learning disabilities.
  2. Problems with impulse control.
  3. Aggression. 
  4. Delinquincy.
  5. Anti-social, violent, criminal, or bully behaviors.
  6. Hyperactivity. Could lead poisoning be related to ADD and ADHD? 

Some sources of lead

  1. Imported clay pots. Some clay from China has naturally occurring lead but these items are often 100% glazed. Still you can buy a test kit where you rub a swab on the item and look for changes in color to indicate lead. 
  2. Drinking water from older houses and older schools.
  3. Lead paint chips inside or outside the home. Especially those on the ground that small children can eat.

Studies and Articles

  • 2008, Minneapolis Dept of Health and Family Support. PDF here. Contains multiple study citations.
  • 2011 Wired. The Crime of Lead Exposure.
  • 2013 Forbes: How lead caused America's violent crime spree. Contains a graph of violent crime vs lead levels. The graph is difficult to read since the X axis shows 2 date ranges, but the graph does show a 20 year delay from more lead in the environment to the crime spree. 
When in doubt, be cautious. This is your health we're trying to keep.

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