Another Corporate Poison

Somehow Blogger just ate more than an hour’s work. The following is based on an early start:

Take a look at this from today’s news, Lead in Environment Causing Violent Crime – Study:

“Lead left in paint, water, soil and elsewhere may not only be affecting children’s intelligence but may cause a significant proportion of violent crime, a U.S. researcher argued Friday.”

WHY is there so much lead in our environment? Take a look at this 2000 special report from The Nation, The Secret History of Lead,

How did lead get into gasoline in the first place? And why is leaded gas still being sold in the Third World, Eastern Europe and elsewhere? Recently uncovered documents from the archives of the aforementioned industrial behemoths and the US government, a new skein of academic research and a careful reading of that long-ago period’s historical record, as well as dozens of interviews conducted by The Nation, tell the true story of leaded gasoline, a sad and sordid commercial venture that would tiptoe its way quietly into the black hole of history if the captains of industry were to have their way.

It’s a long, comprehensive article, well worth reading. To encourage you to follow the link and read more I’ll provide a summary here.

In 1826 the first prototype internal combustion engine burned alcohol and turpentine. Gasoline used in engines caused a “knock” problem which means it ignites too soon. By 1917 it was understood that use of grain alcohol as a fuel solved the problem of “knocking,” and that mixing alcohol with gasoline also worked. “Henry Ford built his very first car to run on what he called farm alcohol.”

Anyone could make alcohol from grain for use as a fuel. And it is a renewable resource — you can grow more grain yourself. But GM had a patent on the use of lead in gasoline, which meant it could make money on every gallon sold. And gasoline is non-renewable — a company can buy up the oil fields and control distribution. “… any idiot with a still could make it at home, and in those days, many did. And ethanol, unlike TEL [lead tetraethyl], couldn’t be patented; it offered no profits for GM.” According to the article, even though it was believed that lead burned in engines would pass into the environment and poison people, “With a legal monopoly based on patents that would provide a royalty on practically every gallon of gasoline sold for the life of its patent, Ethyl promised to make GM shareholders–among whom the du Ponts, Alfred Sloan and Charles Kettering were the largest–very rich.” So they started manufacturing TEL for gasoline.

In August, Du Pont’s TEL plant opened at Deepwater, New Jersey… Less than thirty days would pass before the first of several TEL poisoning deaths of workers there would occur. Not surprisingly, given Du Pont’s stranglehold on all local media within its domain along the Delaware, the deaths went unreported.

More reports of poisoning came in.

GM hurriedly contracted the US Bureau of Mines in September 1923 to explore the dangers of TEL. Even by the lax standards of its day, the bureau was a docile corporate servant, with not an adversarial bone in its body. It saw itself as in the mining promotion business, with much of its scientific work undertaken in collaboration with industry. The bureau’s presumptive harmlessness notwithstanding, to its written agreement with GM was nonetheless added a remarkable proviso, that the bureau “refrain from giving out the usual press and progress reports during the course of the work, as [GM] feels that the newspapers are apt to give scare headlines and false impressions before we definitely know what the influence of the material will be.”

Later, after forming a joint venture with Standard Oil, the Bureau of Mines contract was modified:

In one of its first official acts, the newly formed Ethyl Gasoline Corporation evinced renewed sensitivity to spin (not to mention a justifiably elevated level of paranoia) by insisting that its contract with the Bureau of Mines be modified yet again, to reflect that “before publication of any papers or articles by your Bureau, they should be submitted to them [Ethyl] for comment, criticism, and approval.” Thus, as the public health historians David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz have observed, the newly formed Ethyl Corporation was given “veto power over the research of the United States government.”

Well, the story of government and corporate complicity in keeping information about the dangers of lead in gasoline continued for decades. Example, “No sooner had the EPA announced a scheduled phaseout, setting a reduced lead content standard for gasoline in 1974, than it was sued by Ethyl and Du Pont, who claimed they had been deprived of property rights. In that same year, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit set aside the EPA’s lead regulations as ‘arbitrary and capricious.’ ”

Today we learn that the lead in the environment, brought to us by corporate crime, may be a primary cause of America’s violent crime. Does this all sound a lot like the shady way the Bush administration makes sweetheart deals with its corporate cronies? Well, the Republicans would tell you that the business of America is business, and placing restrictions on corporations costs us jobs and hurts the economy. For decades the Republicans have articulated their ideology of “free markets” and deregulation of companies. And as result, we seem to have returned to the days when the government exists to protect corporate and wealthy interests from accountability to the public.

Blogger ate so much more that I had written and there is so much more in The Nation’s report. So go read The Secret History of Lead and learn about one more way that the scourge of corporatism poisons our bodies and our country.