Leaded gasoline is still widely used in so-called
"third world" countries, with no apparent ill-effects yet reported.
Vague talk about "researchers suddenly and violently dying" is of course
meaningless. ... I see no references. ... The dangers of lead are
Let's investigate that for a moment. A quick search on
revealed the following articles:
- Shen X, Rosen JF, Guo D, Wu S., Childhood lead poisoning in China, Sci Total Environ 1996 Mar 15;181(2):101-9
This is a study from China. The authors studied blood level
concentrations of young children in rural areas and major cities
(Shanghai, Shenyang, Fuzhou and Beijing), and related this to
health effects that were observed. Quoted from the abstract:
The link between low-level lead exposure and deficits in IQ,
neurobehavioral development and physical growth is remarkably consistent
without exception. In summary, the harmful health effects of childhood
lead poisoning in limited studies of exposed and 'unexposed' children
demonstrate that this totally preventable disease warrants considerable
public health attention in China.
- Manay N, Pereira L, Cousillas Z., Lead contamination in Uruguay,
Rev Environ Contam Toxicol 1999;159:25-39
This paper from Uruguay investigates the blood lead
concentrations in young children. The reported health
problems with young children are related to heavy traffic with cars
that are still fueled with leaded gasoline.
- Srianujata S., Lead--the toxic metal to stay with human., J Toxicol Sci 1998 Jul;23 Suppl 2:237-40
This is a paper from Bangkok, Thailand. Quoted from the abstract:
The well-known and excessive environmental exposures are air
of industrial and heavy traffic areas. Use of leaded gasoline has
caused the main lead pollution for years in almost every big city.
Therefore, city inhabitants normally exposed to lead much more than
those who live in the rural area. The most vulnerable groups at risk to
lead exposure are fetuses and preschool age children. Young
children in the 2-3 year-old age may be the most at risk for exposure to
contaminated soil. Adults are affected when exposure is excessive in the
working place and causing lead poisoning. Toxicities are mainly on
heme biosynthesis, neurological effects including
encepharopathy, peripheral neuropathy, and most importantly on
I.Q. deficits. It also affects renal tissues
to produce acute and chronic nephropathy and elevated blood
pressure. There are studies of lead exposure of various means and the
effects on human health, both in children and adults.
- Caprino L, Togna GI., Potential health effects of gasoline and its constituents: A review of current literature (1990-1997) on toxicological data., Environ Health Perspect 1998 Mar;106(3):115-25
This Italian paper reviews toxicological studies (experimental and
epidemiological) on the leaded and unleaded fuels, as
well as their components and additives. It addresses the difficulties
in assessing health effects from leaded gasoline independent from
extraneous factors, and the advances that have been made with respect to
- Romieu I, Palazuelos E, Hernandez Avila M, Rios C, Munoz I, Jimenez C, Cahero G., Sources of lead exposure in Mexico City, Environ Health Perspect 1994 Apr;102(4):384-9
This Mexican paper concludes that leaded gasoline is one of
the major sources of lead poisoning, and it investigates the health
effects on the Mexican population.
- Vega J, Contreras A, Rios E, Marchetti N, Agurto M., Lead exposure and its effects on child health, Rev Chil Pediatr 1990 May-Jun;61(3):154-60
This Chilean paper lists several health effects of lead
poisoning: Neurological symptoms (hyperactivity, distractibility,
lower intellectual development), psychological difficulties
(behavioral deficits), hematologic abnormalities
(reduction in the biosynthesis of heme, anemia), and
metabolic changes (reduction in concentration of 1-25
dihydroxy vitamin D and in the metabolism of erythrocyte pyrimidine).
Prenatal exposure to lead may be related to minor congenital
abnormalities, tumors of the kidney, and growth abnormalities.
Hadnagy W, Seemayer NH., Genotoxicity of particulate emissions from gasoline-powered engines
evaluated by short-term bioassays, Exp Pathol 1989;37(1-4):43-50
A German paper listing the genotoxic and cytotoxic
effects of both leaded and unleaded fuel.
I only included literature from recent years (1989-1999), but the
effects of low level lead poisoning have been known for many
. In fact, the earliest studies were done only a few years
after the discovery of tetra ethyl lead
as an anti-knock agent
(around 1922). As you can see, most of the current literature
contributions on lead poisoning come from countries that still use
leaded gasoline, or to quote theonomist
: ' "third world
with no apparent ill-effects yet reported'
Fact: A long-term study (the Harris-Martin-Rex
Effluent Impact Study) conducted by the United States Department of
Agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s accumulated overwhelming evidence
indicating that fumes from leaded gasoline had no adverse effects on
small mammals (mice, rats), nor any on insects...
So the only rebuttal to the overwhelming amount of literature
proclaiming the dangers of lead poisoning is ONE report from the
sixties, that wasn't published in any peer-reviewed
journal? theonomist wonders why that study is never mentioned
anywhere, and blames it on liberal "environmentalist hysteria".
Of course, it could be a mass environmentalist conspiracy, but I
tend towards Occam's Razor. Maybe the Harris-Martin-Rex Effluent
Impact Study is never mentioned anywhere because it is utterly
wrong. But who knows what the results of the Harris-Martin-
Rex study is all about; the United States Department of Agriculture
doesn't have this report listed anywhere, and it doesn't show up
anywhere in any scientific citations.
Another point that needs to be made from the theonomist's summary
of the Harris-Martin-Rex study is that it (apparently) only studied
small rodents and insects. Extrapolation of test
results with animals to humans has to be done with extreme care, and
sometimes conclusions that can be drawn from laboratory animals are in
no way valid for larger animals or humans. This seems especially true
for the long-term health effects associated with lead poisoning;
rodents simply don't live long enough to observe these effects. Also,
I'm pretty curious to how you would conduct an I.Q. test on a rat to
show that there are no intelligence deficits as was found in human
babies suffering from lead poisoning.
But let's conclude with some insight to the sudden change of
leaded fuel to unleaded fuel. In the 1970's and early 1980's there was an
increasing drive to cut exhaust emissions from automobiles. The major
focus of the government has been to cut the emissions from unreacted
hydrocarbons, the toxic carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides
(NOx); a major contributor to acid rain. Research has led to the
development of a so called three-way catalyst, that is capable of
reducing emissions of all of the above mentioned pollutants. The only
problem is that lead reduces the catalytic activity by irreversibly
reacting with the catalyst surface. In order to make this technology
work, the gasoline had to be lead-free.
As mentioned before, the health risks of lead to humans were already known
for a long time, but this by itself would not have been enough to change
the market. Also, there needed to be an alternative to lead as anti-
knock agent. The oil industry found a replacement called MTBE,
Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether. This compound had the added advantage that it
is an organic additive, instead of a metal, and thus could be
synthesized from petroleum products. This meant that the oil companies
could make additional profit on unleaded gasoline. This may explain why
oil companies were none too hesitant to remove lead additives from
You are absolutely right that MTBE
has proven to be a
poor substitute for lead
. This is due to its high solubility in
(ground) water, and as you mentioned, the low detection threshold
Many alternatives for MTBE have been proposed including tertiary
butyl alcohol (TBA), ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE), tert-amyl ether
(TAME), methanol, and ethanol. Ethanol appears to be the most
promising, but the oil refineries are reluctant.
Ethanol is indeed an excellent oxygenate; better than MTBE, and
only slightly worse than the toxic methanol. However, ethanol has a
relatively high (Reid) vapor pressure. The vapor pressure of fuels is
regulated to obtain proper combustion characteristics in the engine.
Therefore, the switch from MTBE to ethanol isn't a simple switch: the
entire fuel composition needs to be reformulated. It's not an impossible
task, but oil companies don't like a lot of change.
Bio-ethanol is an environmentally friendly product but not really
cheap; it requires distillation to achieve near 100% purity (this is
actually quite involved due to the ethanol-water azeotrope). Cost
estimates (CA Energy commission) predict an initial added price of 6.1 -
6.7 cents per gallon. It is reasonable, but it's not a great selling
point towards the consumer that already thinks it is paying far too much at
the pump. Furthermore, ethanol has a lower energy content, resulting in
a slightly lower fuel economy.
I'm sure you meant the comment on Uranium dust in jest, but burning
it in the air is a bad idea. The radioactive decay of Uranium leads to
several isotopes of: ...Lead.