How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away with It

How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away with It
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The 69-year delay in banning lead in paint in the United States has been attributed to the marketing and lobbying efforts of the industry profiting from the poison.

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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.

We have known that lead can be toxic for thousands of years, and specifically that children could be poisoned by lead paint over a century ago. And, since those first cases, “[t]he lead industry has mobilized against the advances of science.”

By 1926, “[l]ead poisoning was [already a] “relatively frequent occurrence in children.” Yet, “the United States continued to allow the use of lead-based paint until 1978.” In contrast, over in Europe, many countries said, hmm, poisoning children? No thanks, and “banned the use of lead…paint as early as 1909.” 

“The delay…in the [U.S.] was due largely to the [proud] marketing and lobbying efforts of the…industry” profiting from the poison. They knew they couldn’t hold off forever, but boasted that their “victories have been in the deferral of implementation of…regulation[s].”

And now, peeling paint turns into poisonous dust, and “[g]uess where it ends up?” As a Mount Sinai dean and Harvard neurology professor put it: “Lead is a devastating poison. It damages children’s brains, erodes intelligence, diminishes creativity” and judgment and language…. Yet, “[d]espite the accumulating evidence,” the lead industry didn’t just fail to warn people, but “engaged in an energetic promotion of leaded paint.” “After all, a can of pure white lead paint [had] huge amounts of lead, which meant huge profits for the industry.

But see, “[t]here is no cause [to] worry” if your toddler smudges up against lead paint, because those fingerprints can be easily removed without “harming the paint.” Wouldn’t want to harm the paint. After all, “[p]ainted walls are sanitary.” You see, as advertised by the Dutch Boy’s National Lead Company, “Lead helps to guard your health.”

The director of the Lead Industry Association blamed the victims: the slum-dwelling, “ignorant parents.”

“It seems that no amount of evidence, no health statistics, no public outrage could get industry to care that their…paint was killing and poisoning children.” But how much public outrage was there, really?

I mean, “[i]t goes without saying lead is a devastating, debilitating poison…and literally millions of children have been diagnosed with [various] degrees of elevated…lead levels.” Compare that to polio, for example, though. “In the 1950s,…fewer than sixty thousand new cases…[annually] created a near-panic among American parents and a national mobilization [that] led to vaccination campaigns that virtually wiped out the [problem] within a decade.” In contrast, despite many millions of children’s lives “altered for the worse…[a]t no point in the past hundred years has there been a similar national mobilization over lead.” “[T]oday, after literally a century…, the…CDC estimates over five hundred thousand children [still suffer from] ‘elevated blood-lead levels.”

The good news is that blood lead levels are in decline, celebrated as one of our great “public health achievements.” But given what we knew, for how long we knew, to declare this “a public health victory”? “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.”

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this video series on lead—we need to learn from our history; so, the next time some industry wants to sell something to our kids, we’ll stick to the science. And, of course, lead levels aren’t declining for everyone. I’ll cover the Flint, Michigan crisis and end by talking about dietary interventions to pull lead from our body, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Jason Rogers via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Tyler McReynolds, Teetotalin LLC.

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.

We have known that lead can be toxic for thousands of years, and specifically that children could be poisoned by lead paint over a century ago. And, since those first cases, “[t]he lead industry has mobilized against the advances of science.”

By 1926, “[l]ead poisoning was [already a] “relatively frequent occurrence in children.” Yet, “the United States continued to allow the use of lead-based paint until 1978.” In contrast, over in Europe, many countries said, hmm, poisoning children? No thanks, and “banned the use of lead…paint as early as 1909.” 

“The delay…in the [U.S.] was due largely to the [proud] marketing and lobbying efforts of the…industry” profiting from the poison. They knew they couldn’t hold off forever, but boasted that their “victories have been in the deferral of implementation of…regulation[s].”

And now, peeling paint turns into poisonous dust, and “[g]uess where it ends up?” As a Mount Sinai dean and Harvard neurology professor put it: “Lead is a devastating poison. It damages children’s brains, erodes intelligence, diminishes creativity” and judgment and language…. Yet, “[d]espite the accumulating evidence,” the lead industry didn’t just fail to warn people, but “engaged in an energetic promotion of leaded paint.” “After all, a can of pure white lead paint [had] huge amounts of lead, which meant huge profits for the industry.

But see, “[t]here is no cause [to] worry” if your toddler smudges up against lead paint, because those fingerprints can be easily removed without “harming the paint.” Wouldn’t want to harm the paint. After all, “[p]ainted walls are sanitary.” You see, as advertised by the Dutch Boy’s National Lead Company, “Lead helps to guard your health.”

The director of the Lead Industry Association blamed the victims: the slum-dwelling, “ignorant parents.”

“It seems that no amount of evidence, no health statistics, no public outrage could get industry to care that their…paint was killing and poisoning children.” But how much public outrage was there, really?

I mean, “[i]t goes without saying lead is a devastating, debilitating poison…and literally millions of children have been diagnosed with [various] degrees of elevated…lead levels.” Compare that to polio, for example, though. “In the 1950s,…fewer than sixty thousand new cases…[annually] created a near-panic among American parents and a national mobilization [that] led to vaccination campaigns that virtually wiped out the [problem] within a decade.” In contrast, despite many millions of children’s lives “altered for the worse…[a]t no point in the past hundred years has there been a similar national mobilization over lead.” “[T]oday, after literally a century…, the…CDC estimates over five hundred thousand children [still suffer from] ‘elevated blood-lead levels.”

The good news is that blood lead levels are in decline, celebrated as one of our great “public health achievements.” But given what we knew, for how long we knew, to declare this “a public health victory”? “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.”

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this video series on lead—we need to learn from our history; so, the next time some industry wants to sell something to our kids, we’ll stick to the science. And, of course, lead levels aren’t declining for everyone. I’ll cover the Flint, Michigan crisis and end by talking about dietary interventions to pull lead from our body, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Jason Rogers via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Tyler McReynolds, Teetotalin LLC.

Doctor's Note

As soon as I learned about the unfolding crisis in Flint, Michigan, I knew I had to take a deep dive into the medical literature to see if there is anything these kids might do able to do diet-wise to reduce their body burden.

Most of the time I cover a subject on NutritionFacts.org, I’ve addressed it previously, so I just have to research the new studies published in the interim. But I had never really looked deeply into lead poisoning before, so I was faced with more than a century of science to dig through. Yes, I did discover there were foods that could help, but I also learned about cautionary tales like this one about our shameful history with leaded paint. By learning this lesson, hopefully, we can put more critical thought into preventing future disasters that can arise when our society allows profits to be placed over people.

This is the first of an 11-part series on lead, including:

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

If you enjoyed this video, you may also like:

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