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How the Lead Paint and Gas Industries Got Away with It

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We have identified for hundreds of years that lead will be poisonous and for greater than a century that kids might be poisoned by lead paint. Since these first circumstances, the “lead industry has mobilized against the advances of science,” as I talk about in my video How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away with It.

By 1926, lead poisoning was already “of relatively frequent occurrence in children,” but “the United States continued to allow the use of lead-based paint until 1978.” In distinction, in Europe, many nations stated, Hmm, poisoning kids? No, thanks. and “banned the use of lead-based paint as early as 1909.” 

“The delay in banning lead-based paint in the United States was due largely to the marketing and lobbying efforts of the lead industry,” benefiting from the poison. It knew it couldn’t maintain off without end, however the business boasted that its “victories have been in the deferral of implementation of…regulations.”

And now, “peeling paint turns into poisonous dust,” and guess the place it finally ends up? As a Mount Sinai dean and a Harvard neurology professor put it: “Lead is a devastating poison. It damages children’s brains, erodes intelligence, diminishes creativity…” and judgment and language. Yet, regardless of the accumulating proof, the lead business didn’t simply fail to warn individuals—“it engaged in an energetic promotion of lead paint.” After all, a can of pure white lead paint had big quantities of lead, which meant big earnings for the business.

But, as you possibly can see in an previous commercial featured at 1:55 in my video, “[t]here is no cause for worry” in case your toddler rubs up towards lead paint, as a result of these “fingerprint smudges or dirt spots” will be eliminated “easily without harming the paint.” Wouldn’t need to hurt the paint. After all, “painted walls are sanitary…”

The director of the Lead Industry Association blamed the victims: “Childhood lead poisoning is essentially a problem of slum dwellings and relatively ignorant parents.”

“It seems that no amount of evidence, no health statistics, no public outrage could get industry to care that their lead paint was killing and poisoning children,” however how a lot public outrage was there actually?

“It goes without saying that lead is a devastating, debilitating poison” and that “literally millions of children have been diagnosed with varying degrees of elevated blood lead levels…” Compare that to polio, for instance. “In the 1950s, for example, fewer than sixty thousand new cases of polio per year created a near-panic among American parents and a national mobilization that led to vaccination campaigns that virtually wiped out the disease within a decade.” In distinction, regardless of “many millions of children [who have] had their lives altered for the worse by exposure to lead…[a]t no point in the past hundred years has there been a similar national mobilization over lead.” Today, after actually a century, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates over 5 hundred thousand kids nonetheless endure from “elevated blood-lead levels.”

The excellent news is that blood lead ranges are in decline, which is well known as one in every of our nice public health achievements. But, given what we knew, and for the way lengthy we knew, “it is presumptuous to declare the decline in childhood lead poisoning a public health victory.” Indeed, “even if we were victorious…it would be a victory diminished by our failure to learn from the epidemic and take steps to dramatically reduce exposures to other confirmed and suspected environmental toxicants as well as chemicals of uncertain toxicity.”

That’s one in every of the causes I wished to do that collection on lead. We have to be taught from our historical past so the subsequent time some business desires to promote one thing to our youngsters, we’ll follow the science. And, in fact, lead ranges aren’t declining for everybody.

As the whistle-blowing pediatrician who helped expose the Flint ingesting water disaster defined, “The people in Flint have a 20-year lower life expectancy than people in a neighboring suburb. We were already struggling with every barrier to our children’s success. Then we gave them lead.”

Her analysis confirmed that the swap in water provides from the Great Lakes to the polluted Flint River “created a perfect storm” for lead contamination, doubling the share of youngsters with elevated lead ranges of their blood, as you possibly can see at 0:42 in my video How the Leaded Gas Industry Got Away with It, whereas out in the suburbs, the place the water provide remained unchanged, kids’s lead ranges stayed about the similar. That’s how she knew it was the swap in water provides. That’s what broke the story of the Flint disaster: a doubling of elevated lead ranges.

But wait a second: Even earlier than the swap from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River, when everybody was getting the similar water, lead ranges in kids in Flint have been twice that of the suburbs. There was already a doubling in elevated lead ranges in Flint and different poor communities round the nation, however the place have all the disaster headlines been? Indeed, even with all the bottled water in the world, the kids in Flint will proceed to stay in a lead-polluted atmosphere.

Many have identified the irony that the new water from the Flint River was “so corrosive” that the close by General Motors plant switched again to a clear water supply when it started noticing rust spots on its new elements, all whereas water high quality complaints from Flint residents have been being ignored. But, there may be an extra irony: General Motors is a serious purpose why the world is so contaminated with lead in the first place, as GM invented leaded gasoline. “Shortly after manufacture began, workers…began to become floridly psychotic and die.”

“In the wake of blaring headlines” about the lead-poisoned staff, public health leaders “warned of the potential for damage to broad swaths of the population” posed by placing this “well established toxin” into gasoline, “into the daily lives of millions of people. Yet, despite these warnings, millions…were harmed…and this entirely preventable poisoning still occurs today.”

“Virtually all the lead in the environment is there as a result of human activity.” Because we put it there. It was once locked away, deep underground or below the ocean, however that was earlier than we drove it round the Earth. “In the early 1970s, 200,000 tons of lead was emitted from automobiles in the United States each year, mostly in urban areas.” Had lead not been added to gasoline, the business would have had to make use of higher-octane gasoline, which is much less worthwhile. So, the “oil and lead industries…successfully thwarted government efforts to limit lead in gasoline for 50 years.” But, how have been they in a position to try this? “Early public health warnings were not heeded because the industry assured the scientific community and the public that there was no danger.” I might see how a gullible public is likely to be swayed by slick PR, however how do you manipulate the scientific group? By manipulating the science.

“The lead industry was able to achieve its influence in large part by being the primary supporter of research on health effects of lead,” and it acquired the greatest science cash might purchase. “Long before Big Tobacco, the lead industry understood the inestimable value of purchasing ‘good science.’”

“Consequently, the vast majority of relevant studies of lead in gasoline published [for decades]…were favorable to the lead industries.” What’s extra, they “even sent a delegation to try to convince the U.S. EPA administrator that the lead regulation was not necessary because they alleged lead was an essential mineral required for optimum growth and development.”

Of course, the precise reverse is true. Lead is poisonous to improvement. There are, nonetheless, dietary interventions that may assist alleviate lead toxicity. For instance, there are food parts that may assist lower the absorption of lead and assist flush it out of your physique. I’ve produced a collection of three movies on particular dietary interventions, equivalent to explicit meals to eat, however—spoiler alert—on the whole, “food patterns that reduce susceptibility to lead toxicity are consistent with the recommendations for a healthy diet.”

As quickly as I discovered about the unfolding disaster in Flint, Michigan, I knew I needed to take a deep dive into the medical literature to see if there may be something these children would possibly be capable to do diet-wise to scale back their physique burden.

Most of the time once I cowl a topic on NutritionFacts.org, I’ve addressed it beforehand, so I simply should analysis the new research revealed in the interim. But I had by no means actually appeared deeply into lead poisoning earlier than, so I used to be confronted with greater than a century of science to dig by means of. Yes, I did uncover there have been meals that might assist, however I additionally discovered about cautionary tales like this one about our shameful historical past with leaded paint. By studying this lesson, hopefully, we will put extra crucial thought into stopping future disasters that may come up when our society permits earnings to be positioned over individuals.


This is a part of a collection on lead. You can view the remainder of the collection right here:

  • Lead in Drinking Water
  • “Normal” Blood Lead Levels Can Be Toxic
  • The Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure in Adults
  • How to Lower Lead Levels with Diet: Thiamine, Fiber, Iron, Fat, Fasting?
  • How to Lower Lead Levels with Diet: Breakfast, Whole Grains, Milk, Tofu?
  • Best Foods for Lead Poisoning: Chlorella, Cilantro, Tomatoes, Moringa?
  • Best Food for Lead Poisoning: Garlic
  • Can Vitamin C Help with Lead Poisoning?
  • Yellow Bell Peppers for Male Infertility and Lead Poisoning?

 You may be involved in How to Lower Heavy Metal Levels with Diet.

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What relevance does this have for us right this moment? See, for instance, my video How Smoking in 1959 Is Like Eating in 2019.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t but, you possibly can subscribe to my free movies right here and watch my stay displays:

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