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 U.S. has been attributed to the proud 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.

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.

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 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, and so I just have to research the new studies published in the interim. But I had never really looked deeply into lead poisoning before, and so 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. Stay tuned for:

If you enjoyed this video you’ll probably also like:

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

37 responses to “How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away With It

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  1. I should probably wait with this revelation until the “How the Leaded Gas Industry Got Away With It” but I am not that patient.

    Ok, so a little brain-teaser.
    Q: Who single-handedly caused one of the largest damages (if not the largest damage) to the environment and atmosphere in particular?
    A: Thomas Midgley Jr.
    Not only did he invent tetraethyllead (leaded gasoline) and tried to hide its toxicity (please read the Wikipedia entry on Thomas Midgley Jr.) but he also invented chlorofluorocarbons including freon which are the direct cause of the ozone hole.

    “Legacy” paragraph from Wikipedia entry on Thomas Midgley Jr.:
    Midgley’s legacy has been scarred by the negative environmental impact of some of his innovations.[18] His work led to the release of large quantities of lead into the atmosphere as a result of the large-scale combustion of leaded gasoline all over the world.[18] High atmospheric lead levels have been linked with serious long-term health problems from childhood, including neurological impairment,[19][20][21] and with increased levels of violence and criminality in cities.[22][23][24]

    Thomas Midgley Jr. died three decades before the ozone-depleting and greenhouse gas effects of CFCs in the atmosphere became widely known.[25] Bill Bryson remarked that Midgley possessed “an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny.”[26] J. R. McNeill, an environmental historian, opined that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.




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  2. Very hard to stop a well organized special interest. Lead is cheap and produces some brilliant pigments in paint and is safe as long as it never peels or has other unintended transmission, so the industry pitchmen spin their story to regulators. They didn’t develop indestructible, never peeling paint, as we know now. So there is a large external cost seen with millions of people with various levels of mental retardation.




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  3. This is the start of a great series! Am looking forward to seeing the rest of them. Thank you Dr. G, NF staff & volunteers for all you do to help keep us informed with evidence based facts.




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  4. Wow, I don’t know how I survived it all. Growing up with lead paint, living by a busy road with lead gasoline, raised on sugar, koolaid, hot dogs and white bread. Just blows my mind. Thank god I found the yoga/new age movement back in 1974 and was able to change my diet and lifestyle.




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    1. Sadly most didn’t survive it. I remember the UK in 70’s and 80’s when we still had lead water pipes and lead petrol and the violence, bigotry and retarded behaviour that was abundant back then. It’s not hard to see how removing these toxins from the environment has changed people for the better.

      The UK is a far better place now without all the lead.

      But maybe there’s some other reason, correlation is not causation after all – as people keep telling me. But i’ll take the nicer place in which i live without lead over the place it used to be with lead and not care if correlation is not causation. I don’t want my country to be filled with lead in the environment ever again.




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    2. But just in time for the tipping point in global warming and a higher probability of a nuclear war? Do not be paranoid…they are not out to get you…they just want to sell you stuff.

      I missed the busy road…but got hit with all the other stuff.




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  5. Another terrific series. This is a perfect example of disinformation, where we allow marketing and lobbyist to prevail over science and facts. Making money has always been an important motivation to do the wrong thing. When will we learn to tell the difference.




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    1. As long as there are focus groups and testing to figure out how to push people’s buttons…the lowest common denominator will prevail? Our current political environment is an example.




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  6. Another great article. I’ve been hearing alot about fluoride in our drinking water. Does Dr. Greger have info on that matter?




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  7. I am thinking that our current ‘austism’ epidemic is a direct result of chemical exposures in our diets/environment….hormone disruptors etc. But as usual most of society would rather bury their head in the sand.




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    1. Some associations…..probably can be explained away…ask the tobacco or lead paint people as to how to do it….

      http://info.cmsri.org/the-driven-researcher-blog/vaccinated-vs.-unvaccinated-guess-who-is-sicker

      Vaccinated children were more than three times as likely to be diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum (OR 4.3)

      *Vaccinated children were 30-fold more likely to be diagnosed with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) than non-vaccinated children

      * Vaccinated children were 22-fold more likely to require an allergy medication than unvaccinated children

      *Vaccinated children had more than quadruple the risk of being diagnosed with a learning disability than unvaccinated children (OR 5.2)

      *Vaccinated children were 300 percent more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder than unvaccinated children (OR 4.3)

      * Vaccinated children were 340 percent (OR 4.4) more likely to have been diagnosed with pneumonia than unvaccinated children

      *Vaccinated children were 300 percent more likely to be diagnosed with an ear infection than unvaccinated children (OR 4.0)

      *Vaccinated children were 700 percent more likely to have surgery to insert ear drainage tubes than unvaccinated children (OR 8.01)

      * Vaccinated children were 2.5-fold more likely to be diagnosed with any chronic illness than unvaccinated children




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    1. I would imagine it would be safe as long as you don’t swallow a mouth full of toothpaste. Toothpaste is also a concern of mine regarding fluoride.John




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  8. It is astonishing that a simple $320 counter-top reverse osmosis water filter would protect every resident of Flint Michigan. If the Flint, Michigan population was and even 100,000 the total cost for virtually immediate clean water would be $30 million vs the estimates of $93 million for a new water system that should indeed get built. The human damage to children is alarming!

    With all the other nasty chemicals in most public drinking water in the U.S. water purifiers are a necessity to survive the chemical warfare against U.S. citizens currently being undertaken by big industry and the complicit government agencies that in theory are there to protect us!




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    1. This $17 filter at least reduces lead content…of course you need to install the housing.

      https://www.amazon.com/KX-MATRIKX-Pb1-Extruded-Cartridge/dp/B008A9P5DK

      Glad I had it installed when the local water-bunnies decided to soften all water to reduce lime buildup in appliances….they over-acidified the water for a while…I needed to replace some copper pipes above my water heater due to the extra corrosion. Not sure how many people in this town were poisoned….




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    2. I’ve been using a Watts reverse osmosis system for about 10 years now, it was very inexpensive but only works on one tap (which is fine for me). There are more efficient systems out there for sure, even at a moderate cost increase the level of incompetitence in government is simply amazing.




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  9. I’d love to know how industry can “lobby” and it’s encouraged, but if we individuals did the same, it’s called bribery and we’d be punished? Talk about a double standard, what am I missing?




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  10. Unquestionably, the greatest health problem in our country (probably the world) today is the corruption and perversion of governments by unscrupulous corporations that bribe and intimidate elected officials to impose their will on all of us. Dr. Greger, you will probably save more lives with series like this than in any other way. We and the environment we live in are being subjected to a rapidly growing list of toxic health destroying chemicals, with the latest reports showing even newborn infants being born with over 200 synthetic chemicals already in their blood, with many – like Monsanto’s glyphosate – known to be carcinogenic. Please keep up your work on revealing how the health of our government – and consequently our country – is being corrupted, resulting in a pandemic level of life threatening health conditions, here and around the world. My deepest thanks and appreciation for all you and your team are achieving.




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  11. Great job on covering the effects of lead paint! I would like to see equally good coverge of the nuero toxic effects of mercury and aluminum and the potential for damage to children from them both being added to vaccines which are increasing becoming mandatory for school attendence.




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  12. Dr. Greger thank you for taking on this extremely complicated, many faceted, problem. I think it is especially timely now that the current administration in DC is trying to roll back all environmental regulations to favor the mining industries (including coal).

    I am especially heartened to hear that maybe some of the effects of lead poisoning in young children can be treated with a whole food, plant based diet.




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    1. Laura,

      I think one of the best way to start a conversation regarding sarcoidosis is to view the numerous autoimmune and inflammation video’s on Dr. Greger’s site. I’d also take the time to evaluate your exposures be those both in your home, city and vocation. The wiki on this subject is quite good and will give you enough info to start some clear evaluations.

      Trust this helps,

      Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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  13. On another topic, though this was a wonderful one! I have just searched several versions of this: CALF MUSCLE LEG CRAMPS. No luck. Surely this topic is covered by dear Dr. Greger! So my question is: What causes them and how can we prevent them? I have been WFPB for 6 years and am 67. For last couple of years now and then when I awake I like to stretch in bed. But too often when I do, I feel the onset of a cramp in one or both calves and have to stop IMMEDIATELY to abort the cramp. I miss my huge stretches! Why? I am an accomplisher former competitive ice skater, skate hard 4 hours a week, go to gym 3 x a week, walk briskly 2-3 x a week. Can anyone suggest some good reading of research? Thank you! (Oh yes, and my pee is bluish with cabbage test!)




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    1. hi Gayle, this video talks about magnesium and its important role in so many of our bodies’ processes. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/mineral-of-the-year-magnesium/ I mention this because outside of b12 and vit d, magnesium is the only thing I take . I do eat a very good diet of wfpb foods but magnesium is what stops the leg cramps. I exercise a great deal too in swimming, hiking, gym. The comment section below the video might hold additional ideas for you to try. All the best to you.




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    2. Gayle Delaney,
      You’re not alone. I’ve been doing acupuncture and massage on my calves (extremely tight from a lifetime of dancing and biking.) The treatments are helping tremendously.

      I also find the legs up the wall position here helps get the blood flowing.




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    3. Gayle,

      May I suggest a simple test ? Try some supplemental magnesium. Only the chelated forms not oxide. You can mix some of the powder into a drink format easily. Classically when a physician hears of cramping the first response should be this mineral, assuming no obvious medical disorders, such as obvious electrolyte imbalances secondary to diseases, etc.

      If you use the citrate form, you might experience some loose bowels so go with other options preferentially. Dose will vary so sorry start with the indicated amount with food and then increase and check with a deep stretch.

      Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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  14. My mother is a toxicologist, her PhD dissertation in the mid-eighties was on lead toxicity in rats. Prior to her research there were “safe” lead levels, in part because they considered a rat’s neurological development affected when they took too long to react when dropped on a hot plate! My mother’s research studied disruption in “linked behaviors” that were disrupted at extremely low levels of lead exposure. These brain changes were noted on microscopic pathology. Her conclusion was that the only safe lead level was zero.




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  15. Hello there :) (Help!!) Sorry for unrelated comment!
    If anyone could answer this question I would be very gratefull! My sister is pregnant (again) and I think she would like to go vegan, but at one point my brother told her that it wasn´t apropriate to go vegan during pregnancy/breastfeeding because the body get´s rid of alot of toxins which would then go to the baby. Is there any truth to this? I don´t think it sounds fully logical, but I haven´t found any defenitive answer. Wouldn´t the baby get less exposure to toxins if she would adopt a cleaner diet?
    Thanks in advance!
    /Erik




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    1. There’s no evidence of that to my knowledge. Also, she will take in far less toxins by being vegan. So on that principle alone, she’d be better off. She just need to make sure she gets enough vitamin B12; which is important regardless of pregnancy.




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  16. So you’ve addressed lead and basically said “show us the science on safety first next time.” Great! Will you please address mercury an aluminum in IM injections and the supposed science behind that!?




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    1. Leslie,

      Are you familiar with the new publication by Dr. Paul Thomas addressing this issue ?​ “The Vaccine-Friendly Plan” has quite a bit of information regarding this issue and Paul lectures on the subject of aluminum as an adjuvant often. Heard him in Portland, a few months ago. Good info and a good speaker.

      Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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  17. So lead is old news. Why not fluoride poison of our water by cities? Can we make some noise on internet to activate public?




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