Thursday, December 14, 2006


The Great Lead Scam

In light of the news that the Bush administration wants to bring back lead in gasoline, I thought this 2000 article for The Nation, by Automobile's Jamie Kittman, was appropriate to revive:

Consider: § the severe health hazards of leaded gasoline were known to its makers and clearly identified by the US public health community more than seventy-five years ago, but were steadfastly denied by the makers, because they couldn't be immediately quantified; § other, safer antiknock additives--used to increase gasoline octane and counter engine "knock"--were known and available to oil companies and the makers of lead antiknocks before the lead additive was discovered, but they were covered up and denied, then fought, suppressed and unfairly maligned for decades to follow; § the US government was fully apprised of leaded gasoline's potentially hazardous effects and was aware of available alternatives, yet was complicit in the cover-up and even actively assisted the profiteers in spreading the use of leaded gasoline to foreign countries; § the benefits of lead antiknock additives were wildly and knowingly overstated in the beginning, and continue to be. Lead is not only bad for the planet and all its life forms, it is actually bad for cars and always was; § for more than four decades, all scientific research regarding the health implications of leaded gasoline was underwritten and controlled by the original lead cabal--Du Pont, GM and Standard Oil; such research invariably favored the industry's pro-lead views, but was from the outset fatally flawed; independent scientists who would finally catch up with the earlier work's infirmities and debunk them were--and continue to be--threatened and defamed by the lead interests and their hired hands; § confronted in recent years with declining sales in their biggest Western markets, owing to lead phaseouts imposed in the United States and, more recently, Europe, the current sellers of lead additives have successfully stepped up efforts to market their wares in the less-developed world, efforts that persist and have resulted in some countries today placing more lead in their gasoline, per gallon, than was typically used in the West, extra lead that serves no purpose other than profit; § faced with lead's demise and their inevitable days of reckoning, these firms have used the extraordinary financial returns that lead additive sales afford to hurriedly fund diversification into less risky, more conventional businesses, while taking a page from the tobacco companies' playbook and simultaneously moving to reorganize their corporate structures to shield ownership and management from liability for blanketing the earth with a deadly heavy metal.
Go read the whole thing. I'd say that it was unbelieveable that the Bush Junta and their oil-company buddies would even consider putting lead back into gas, but we're talking about the gang that invaded Iraq because Ahmad Chalabi told them it would be a cakewalk.

Yes. The lead story is one of those which one cannot read and remain in favor of laissez faire. The market failed, millions were injured, the damage went on for many decades, and there has never been compensation.

The companies didn't even make that much money on it. They just did it because they could.
Why would they put lead back into gas? The refineries have been retooled to produce unleaded gas and, more to the point, new cars can't run on leaded gas; it would ruin the catalytic convertor.

There are, however, other industries that are producing lead pollution, and it's those industries that want to be relieved of regulation.

So I'm thinking the CNN headline is just a prime piece of stupidity, interpreting the news instead of just reporting it. And, incidentally, distracting from the facts of the case.
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