Lead: Toxic Truth: The Book

I’ve just finished reading the book Toxic Truth – A Scientist, A Doctor, and the Battle Over Lead, by journalist Lydia Denworth (published in 2008).

There is plenty of info about the book here – including a link ‘More about lead poisoning’ that you can to go to for info on ‘What To Do About Childhood Lead Poisoning.

I’m so glad I read the book! It’s well-written, informative, often shocking in its revelations about the ways in which the lead industry in the U.S. continued to poison … well, not just Americans, since lead dust blows around all over the place (including into the oceans) … let’s just say the world, shall we? Why? In order to keep pulling in their profits, of course...

There is information about how, way back in 1924, 4 men died at a Standard Oil plant in New Jersey while engaged in making tetraethyl lead (between 1923 & 1924, 15 workers died & 100s were "hospitalized after exposure to tetraethyl lead at Standard Oil, DuPont, and GM plants"). There were other workers involved in this industry who basically literally went crazy as a result of lead poisoning. All this so that lead could be added to gasoline.

The years went by & there were many families who lost children to lead poisoning (due to exposure to leaded paint). Yes, I’m talking about cases of children becoming very, very ill & eventually having convulsions & in some cases dying – because the lead industry was so keen to keep on reaping its profits. (And denying & continuing to deny for decades that lead was a problem.)

A person might ask why lead in paint was understood way back in 1904 (in Australia) to be linked to childhood lead poisoning & by the 1920s banned from interior paint in France, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Greece, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Tunisia, Cuba and parts of Australia – yet not be banned from interior paint in the U.S. until 1978 (and in Canada, though this is not mentioned in the book, but so I’ve been told, it was not until last month that Canada finally caught up with the U.S. – seemingly we have always lagged far behind the U.S. with respect to regulating lead in paint…so both countries are now at 90 ppm (parts per million). Oh Canada… oh dear, dear me… Can you say “industry pressure,” readers??).

Well. It’s an interesting story – how U.S. scientist Clair Patterson (the man who figured out how to date the age of the Earth) came to understand lead’s dangers & widespread dispersion in the environment& how long it took for the issue to be dealt with appropriately. And Dr. Herbert Needleman & his many years of activism on the lead front.

It’s all very, very sobering.

But as mentioned off the top, it’s well-written & well worth reading if you want to understand how such a nasty substance & industry spent decades & decades poisoning the environment & all of us, & not only “getting away with it,” but doing “snow jobs” on government agencies & cleaning up mightily on profits all the while… (kind of reminds me a little of the nuclear industry… & uh, the tobacco industry. And, um, the chemical industry... And... need I go on???)

The book has a “Timeline” at the end that lays out lead’s recent history from 1839 (“First comprehensive study of lead’s neurotoxic effects published in France”) to "1976: After EPA wins legal battle with industry, reduction of lead in gasoline begins" to 2008 (“Rhode Island Supreme Court overturns 2006 jury decision. Manufacturers of lead pigment do not have to pay for cleanup of lead paint”). It's quite a history. Enough to make you weep, truly.

Reader: I do apologize. This is not a particularly good review of the book. I didn’t know as I was reading it that I’d be reviewing it, & didn’t take notes the way I ought to have done.

But the link I gave up at the top will give you plenty more information about the book.

If you are at all interested in the story of lead, I’d say, by all means, read the book!!


‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The mining and smelting of lead and dispersal of manufactured lead products within the human environment is actually a monumental crime committed by humanity against itself.” – Clair Patterson, Ph D. Quoted in Toxic Truth – A Scientist, A Doctor, and the Battle Over Lead, by Lydia Denworth.

p.s. I suspect some folks (including some very close to me, I think) wonder why I read books like this & then try to tell others about them. Why I don’t just try to live in some pretty little bubble, perhaps they are thinking, like so many of the people one knows seem to do. I don’t really have a satisfactory explanation for that question. I do know that the moment I heard the following quotation, it immediately resonated for me: “Truth is the only safe ground to stand on.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

p.p.s. The essays ‘Why I am an Activist, part I’ & ‘Part II’ offer some explanation for why I chose (& continue to choose) to be an activist.

p.p.p.s. Several other blog postings related to lead can be found here