Lead poisoning, gov. reg., science

Mon Jun 26 10:52:05 MDT 1995

The unleading of gasoline is a significant part of a solution to the
problem of environmental contamination by lead.  Lead is a seriously
toxic substance.  Reduced use of lead in gasoline has made a
difference in the many, many tons of breathable lead which were put
into the atmosphere, settled onto roadside farm crops, ran off into
waterways, etc.

If less lead in gas results in other problems becoming worse, I don't
know.  Combustion chemistry and air quality is not my best subject,
but I am an environmentalist, and I can tell you that greenies in the
US were and are in favor of de-leading.  Not that greenies are always
well-informed....  how well I know.  They get "foot-in-mouth" disease
all too often.  It would be interesting [and embarassing] to find out
that un-leading has actually caused more harm than good for public
health and the environment.

But I've always assumed that the use of lead under the previous
status quo of regulation was favored by the car and gas industry.
They fought it when we started switching, and complained about losing
money.  Not that I expect them to be sincere, but I do expect them to
try to follow the path of profit, No?  And the lead was added to gas
by them, on their own initiative, I think.  It was the growing stack
of evidence of the danger of lead which supported the idea of banning

Now on the other hand, if we look at the bigger picture, we might
well find that more lives could be saved by putting the regulatory
efforts elsewhere, such as cleaning up lead paint.  Housing projects
for poor people that were built a few decades ago are still in use,
and full of lead paint, some of it 75% lead by weight, but in a much
more soluble [hence absorbable] form than a plain lump of metallic
lead.  It takes only a few tiny crumbs now and then to poison a baby
and cause brain damage and mental retardation for life.

This is happening right now in all large cities in US.  I saw an
excellent documentary on this topic on PBS (US public broadcasting) a
couple of years ago.  Boston city gov. says "well we don't have the
money to strip and repaint all these large buildings".  But they
don't even inform the residents that the housing is hazardous to
their children, either.  But we can afford to treat retarded children
for lead poisoning, suffer the loss of their potential, and even
"support" them [below poverty] for life??

Some would say, lets clean up the air and the housing, both.  Another
says, well AIDS is killing more people than lead is, but what about
alcohol, and tobacco?  Now we're talking about people doing things to
hurt themselves, and should they have the right to do so?  (I say
yes, but it shouldn't be subsidized and advertized.)  But I digress.

PBS pointed out the irony that the major housing for the poor in
Boston which is lead-free is in the area where projects were burned
down during race/poverty/police-abuse/civil-rights riots, I think in
the early 70's.  When these were replaced, lead paint had already
been banned.

An implied pitch for arson, on PBS?  Or rather, I inferred it. Either
way, I love it.  Hilarious, in a morbid kind of way.

But the gov. is not at all organized for "the bigger picture".  There
is no built-in trade-off or balancing mechanism between lead in air
and lead in housing, or any other public health effects.  There is a
separate agency for air quality, for housing, for hazardous
conditions [but only in workplaces], local housing codes [which only
apply to new buildings], etc.  And all the agencies have separate
budgets and limited scope of duty and authority.

Obviously, this is a terrible state of affairs.  Congress
"prioritizes" various goals and programs by deciding how much money
each one should have, and also by passing laws that authorize and
require agencies to pursue particular goals and create programs such
as regulations.  Of course, there are many reasons that Congress
doesn't do a good job of this.

Part of my socialist/scientist dream is that there could be
consistent social/environmental goals that all agencies could aim
towards, that priorities would be decided sensibly, based on real
data about real people and real harms, rather than panicky, partially
informed over-reactions and under-reactions, that lobbyists for
capitalists would be banned, etc.

Science for the people will be essential, and it will only work well
if science tells the whole truth, [as many of us are doing our best
to do already] not just the parts favored by any party in power.  And
science is most helpful when people are educated enough about it to
analyze specific data and argument, rather than blindly trusting or
trashing the whole thing.  To me, that is part of human development.
We will always have specialists [at least in the interests of
efficiency] but people should ask hard questions, and scientists
should answer and explain the basis for their conclusions.  Then we
can evaluate each argument or analysis on its own merits.  {Unless
one is convinced in advance that there can be no merits to any

This could have been shorter, if I had addressed only lead, but I
didn't want to look like an unthoughtful defender of government
regulation.  Because I don't think I am.


>>> aniello margiotta <amargiotta at synapsis.it>  6/23/95, 02:06pm >>>
(snip) I thing but I am not the only one, unlead gasoline is a
scientific and industrial scandal to send smoke devices and less
octane gasoline counterfeiting it like ecological solution. (snip)

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