Lead – part of the tale of delayed regulation

An interesting question in an essay by Tim Harford – Why did we use leaded petrol for so long?

Answer – the same reason that we are using lead ammunition for so long – the science is disputed by vested interests who benefit from the status quo and abject failure of regulators to act in the public interest.


13 Replies to “Lead – part of the tale of delayed regulation”

  1. Mark can you share a link to research on the impacts of lead ammunition in the environment? I understand the issues with lead shot inside game meat and want to better understand the impact of shot in the environment. I’ve emailed you twice on this to no avail.

    1. Mark use to have a side column with various subjects which i found useful but you can still find stuff via his search engine box on top right.

    2. Keith, why don’t you just start by searching Mark’s blog using his search box in the top right hand corner. One thing leads to another and saves Mark valuable time!

    3. Keith, you could try doing your own research, rather than expecting Mark to do it for you. Maybe it’s not the paper you are looking for but I just found this on the internet in, say, 15 seconds:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5161761/ In fact, given another 15 seconds I skimmed it and decided it was especially pertinent because it directly addressed ‘merchandising of doubt’. Of course it is only a literature review, and I don’t doubt it can be read according to one’s predispositions. But I hope it and the many referenced papers will give you enough to consider, without the need to seek Mark’s assistance.

  2. Tim Harford’s excellent essay reminded me of the mid 1950s when I was deciding what type of scientist I wanted to be! I visited the R&D labs of a company called Associated Octel Co. Ltd. which I knew researched a compound called Tetraethyl Lead as a petroleum additive. With all due respect to the many charming and companionable chemists I have since met and had a drink with, this lot were aloof, a bit odd and frankly,weird (maybe we now know the reason!). I decided not to become a chemist.

    I wondered what became of the company, so asked Wikipedia. They still exist as Innospec Corp with a presence throughout the world. A Division is called Octane Additives and I found this quote interesting:
    “… is the last remaining non-Chinese producer of tetraethyllead (TEL) used in the manufacture of motor gasoline in one remaining country ….throughout the world.[1]The company has recently sparked controversy due to it being the only company which continues to export leaded petrol from the UK to Algeria despite pledging to stop several times and direct links to childhood brain damage and premature death.[2]” The paper was published in August this year!

    and this:

    In 2007 US authorities alerted the UK SFO to…Innospec, while trading as company Octel, was revealed to have been bribing officials in Iraq and Indonesia with millions of dollars in order to continue using TEL as a fuel additive, which causes brain damage in children through elevated lead levels.[4] The company negotiated a global settlement, although this was condemned by Lord Justice Thomas of the UK during sentencing.[5] In October 2014 the convictions of Miltiades Papachristos and Dennis Kerrison for conspiracy to corrupt were upheld against appeals.[6] The company was released from its Monitor supervision and successfully completed its parole period in early 2015.

    I wonder if any of their execs are grouse shooters!

        1. Interesting article Carole, makes me wonder why, when I needed a little petrol for the lawn mower I syphoned it from the car by mouth!
          It tasted disgusting, but the trick was to disengage mouth from the syphoning pipe at the right time.

        2. Thanks Carole, that really answers a lot of questions. Well worth a read and showing to lead using shooters!

          Hope you’d put your fag out Ben.

  3. There’s quite a big literature now on the denial strategies used by the industries making, and wanting to continue making, damaging products (tobacco, asbestos, DDT, CFCs, fossil fuels etc.). This is quite an interesting article for the lead industry:

    The politics of lead toxicology and the devastating consequences for children.
    Rosner D, Markowitz G. Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, New York, USA. Am J Ind Med. 2007 Oct;50(10):740-56.
    I could post the abstract if anyone is interested.

    One of their key tactics is to push money towards dodgy scientists. The lead industry actually set up a lead research institute, which produced a stream of reports down-playing the dangers of lead and rubbishing the research that revealed them. I can’t help thinking of the G(W)CT (at least post-1999) in this context.
    The problem is that the deniers are learning from past experience and getting better at doing it.

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