How the Leaded Gas Industry Got Away with It

How the Leaded Gas Industry Got Away with It
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How the lead industry got the best science money could buy.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

As the whistle-blowing pediatrician who helped expose the Flint drinking water crisis put it, “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 research showed that the switch in water supplies from the Great Lakes to the polluted Flint River “created a perfect storm” for lead contamination, doubling the percentage of kids with elevated lead levels in their blood. Whereas out in the suburbs, where they kept the same water supply, children’s lead levels stayed about the same. That’s how we knew it was the switch in water supplies. That’s what broke the story of the Flint crisis—a doubling of elevated lead levels.

But wait a second: even before the switch, when everyone was getting the same water, lead levels in children in Flint were twice that of the suburbs. There was already a doubling in elevated lead levels in Flint and other poor communities around the country; yet, where have all the crisis headlines been? So, even with all the bottled water in the world, the children in Flint will continue to live in a lead-polluted environment.

Many have pointed out the irony that the new water from the Flint River was “so corrosive” that “[t]he General Motors plant switched [back] to [a clean] water [source] when [they started noticing] rust spots on their new…parts.” All the while, water quality complaints from Flint residents were being ignored. But, there is an additional irony. General Motors is a major reason 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 workers, “public health leaders…warned of the potential for damage to broad swaths of the population posed by [putting a] well established toxin [into gasoline]. Yet, despite these warnings, millions [upon millions] were harmed…, and this entirely preventable poisoning still occurs today.”

“[V]irtually all the lead in the environment” today is because we put it there. It used to be locked away deep underground or under the ocean, but that was before we drove it around the Earth. By the 1970s, “200,000 tons of lead was emitted from cars and trucks in the United States each year, mostly in urban areas.” Otherwise, the industry would have to use a higher octane gas, which is less profitable; so, “[t]he oil and lead industries…successfully thwarted government efforts to limit lead in gasoline for 50 years.”

But, how were they able to do that? “[B]ecause the industry assured the scientific community and the public that there was no danger.” Okay, I could see how a gullible public could be swayed by slick PR, but how do you manipulate the scientific community? By manipulating the science.

“The lead industry was able to achieve its influence in large part by being the primary supporter of research on [the] health effects of lead,” and they got the best science money could buy. “Long before Big Tobacco, the lead industry understood the inestimable value of purchasing ‘good science.’”

“Consequently, the vast majority of relevant studies…published [for decades] were favorable to the lead [industry].” They “even sent a delegation to try to convince the…EPA that…lead regulation wasn’t necessary because they [claimed] lead was an essential [nutrient] required for [optimal] growth and development.”

Of course, the exact opposite is true. Toxic to development, but there are nutritional interventions that can help alleviate lead toxicity—for example, food components that can help decrease the absorption of lead and help flush it out of your body. I’ve got a series of three videos coming up on specific dietary interventions, particular foods to eat, but—spoiler alert—in general, “food patterns that reduce susceptibility to lead toxicity [tend to be] consistent with [just] recommendations for a healthy diet.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Image credit: Andrew Bain via Flickr. Image has been modified. 

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

As the whistle-blowing pediatrician who helped expose the Flint drinking water crisis put it, “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 research showed that the switch in water supplies from the Great Lakes to the polluted Flint River “created a perfect storm” for lead contamination, doubling the percentage of kids with elevated lead levels in their blood. Whereas out in the suburbs, where they kept the same water supply, children’s lead levels stayed about the same. That’s how we knew it was the switch in water supplies. That’s what broke the story of the Flint crisis—a doubling of elevated lead levels.

But wait a second: even before the switch, when everyone was getting the same water, lead levels in children in Flint were twice that of the suburbs. There was already a doubling in elevated lead levels in Flint and other poor communities around the country; yet, where have all the crisis headlines been? So, even with all the bottled water in the world, the children in Flint will continue to live in a lead-polluted environment.

Many have pointed out the irony that the new water from the Flint River was “so corrosive” that “[t]he General Motors plant switched [back] to [a clean] water [source] when [they started noticing] rust spots on their new…parts.” All the while, water quality complaints from Flint residents were being ignored. But, there is an additional irony. General Motors is a major reason 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 workers, “public health leaders…warned of the potential for damage to broad swaths of the population posed by [putting a] well established toxin [into gasoline]. Yet, despite these warnings, millions [upon millions] were harmed…, and this entirely preventable poisoning still occurs today.”

“[V]irtually all the lead in the environment” today is because we put it there. It used to be locked away deep underground or under the ocean, but that was before we drove it around the Earth. By the 1970s, “200,000 tons of lead was emitted from cars and trucks in the United States each year, mostly in urban areas.” Otherwise, the industry would have to use a higher octane gas, which is less profitable; so, “[t]he oil and lead industries…successfully thwarted government efforts to limit lead in gasoline for 50 years.”

But, how were they able to do that? “[B]ecause the industry assured the scientific community and the public that there was no danger.” Okay, I could see how a gullible public could be swayed by slick PR, but how do you manipulate the scientific community? By manipulating the science.

“The lead industry was able to achieve its influence in large part by being the primary supporter of research on [the] health effects of lead,” and they got the best science money could buy. “Long before Big Tobacco, the lead industry understood the inestimable value of purchasing ‘good science.’”

“Consequently, the vast majority of relevant studies…published [for decades] were favorable to the lead [industry].” They “even sent a delegation to try to convince the…EPA that…lead regulation wasn’t necessary because they [claimed] lead was an essential [nutrient] required for [optimal] growth and development.”

Of course, the exact opposite is true. Toxic to development, but there are nutritional interventions that can help alleviate lead toxicity—for example, food components that can help decrease the absorption of lead and help flush it out of your body. I’ve got a series of three videos coming up on specific dietary interventions, particular foods to eat, but—spoiler alert—in general, “food patterns that reduce susceptibility to lead toxicity [tend to be] consistent with [just] recommendations for a healthy diet.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Image credit: Andrew Bain via Flickr. Image has been modified. 

Doctor's Note

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

What exactly happened in Flint? That was the subject of my video Lead in Drinking Water.

What about leaded paint? That was the subject of How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away with It.

I also review what lead actually does to you. Check out “Normal” Blood Lead Levels Can Be Toxic and The Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure in Adults.

Then, finally, learn what we can do about it:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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