A Brief History of Lead in Products & All the Health Hazards It Causes

Months before lead was ever introduced in gasoline, back in 1923, there was already a report from the United States Public Health Service that warned of its potency for health hazards. Indeed, it was also already known that ethyl alcohol was a superior alternative due to its ease of production, nontoxicity, and reduced amount of pollutants when burned compared to lead gasoline. The question becomes, “If lead in gasoline was known to be dangerous from the beginning, why was it permitted? And for so long?”

The bottom line is the bottom dollar of companies invested in the use of lead gasoline. Ethyl alcohol could not be patented and so it would bring no significant profits to motor companies that sold it out of pumps. At the time, General Motors was on the forefront of utilizing and selling lead gasoline, and it teamed up with the Bureau of Mines to conduct safety tests about lead-lined exhaust. Not surprisingly, they concluded there was no real health concern.

Research & Awareness Increases in the ‘70s

For decades, the scientific community had been satisfied in categorizing lead poisoning as a bit of an unexplained phenomenon. The problem was that testing lead levels in blood was difficult unless the patient had such high concentrations that the poisoning was obvious, and potentially fatal. In the ‘70s, new technology and methods made it easier to study lead levels in much smaller quantities.

It was not long after the new developments that the federal government adjusted what it considered to be “unsafe” lead exposure amounts for children. In fact, the threshold it considered safe dropped a full 33% with the new research. By the time of the modern age, the threshold would be just 12% of what it was prior to 1971. The government’s reaction to lead exposure in children is clearly indicative of its acknowledgement of lead’s natural dangers, and yet it is still prominent in many products, especially industrial ones, today. Again, the reasoning must lie in profits over the protection of the people.

California Awakens to the Problem

The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act passed by California in 1986 marks a turning point in legislation built specifically to combat the dangers of lead in everyday settings. After the federal government failed to protect children from exposure, state-level lawmakers took it upon themselves to create the bill, which started a program to better investigate the breadth of the problem. Just five years later, California integrated additional language into the act to further lead tests available to children in the state, hoping to catch dangerous exposure early.

While the act and the agencies it founded were criticized for being somewhat ineffective, they still served as a turning point in the country’s history with lead use and testing. Due to the efforts, it was estimated in the ‘90s that only 20% of children had been tested for lead poisoning, and that little more than 10% of the actual number of cases had been identified. In particular, Orange County had been startled by the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch’s (CLPP) studies, as the agency concluded that around 7% of children there had been exposed to twice the maximum safe threshold established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Resistance to Change, In & Out of Court

With California and indeed the rest of the country fully realizing the extent of lead exposure dangers, new efforts were put forth to take lead out of household items and other products. Yet the efforts were still met with corporate resistance. Sinclair Paint Company, Shell Oil, Western States Petroleum Association, and virtually every other organization, company, or group targeted by penalizing fees imposed by the CLLP put up a fight in court to try to duck any payments.

This back-and-forth between health safety groups and companies profiting from the use of lead goes on to this day, as it has become painfully aware in Flint, Michigan. Until there is a complete ban on products that can expose people to dangerous levels of lead, individuals need to be aware of how to protect themselves, and how to seek justice if they are harmed by lead poisoning. ThinkProgress has recently published an intriguing and thorough article about this ongoing issue; click here to read it, if you are interested.

At Brown & Barron, LLC, we believe in fighting the good fight for people who have suffered due to lead poisoning, typically caused by lead paint in homes. Our Baltimore litigation attorneys have a reputation for being aggressive and unwavering when dealing with the opposition, yet compassionate and caring when working with our clients. Discover what our years of experience and true dedication can do for you if you have a lead poisoning claim to file – contact us today to set up an initial consultation.

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