[EAS] The History of Lead

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sat Nov 12 21:48:51 EST 2005

Dear Colleagues -

With oil company profits under debate these days, with occasional
allegations of refinery capacity manipulation, I thought you might be
disposed to delve into some history, specifically that of the
octane-raising tetraethyl lead additive to gasoline, used until 1986.
Or maybe you are preparing material for an engineering ethics course,


---------------- 26,843 words (long, but interesting) ----------------

  Title: The secret history of lead.
  Source: Nation, 03/20/2000, Vol. 270 Issue 11, p11, 30p,
  Author(s): Kitman, Jamie Lincoln
  Abstract: Focuses on the history of lead as a gasoline additive.
    Health and safety concerns associated with lead; Reduction in
    blood-lead levels in the United States following the phase-out of
    leaded gasoline in 1986; Role of the United States government in
    the complicit cover-up of leaded gasoline's hazardous effects.

                          THE SECRET HISTORY OF LEAD

    The next time you pull the family barge in for a fill-up, check it
    out: The gas pumps read "Unleaded." You might reasonably suppose this
    is because naturally occurring lead has been thoughtfully removed from
    the gasoline. But you would be wrong. There is no lead in gasoline
    unless somebody puts it there. And, a little more than seventy-five
    years ago, some of America's leading corporations--General Motors, Du
    Pont and Standard Oil of New Jersey (known nowadays as Exxon)--were
    that somebody. They got together and put lead, a known poison, into
    gasoline, for profit.

    Lead was outlawed as an automotive gasoline additive in this country
    in 1986-more than sixty years after its introduction--to enable the
    use of emissions-reducing catalytic converters in cars (which are
    contaminated and rendered useless by lead) and to address the myriad
    health and safety concerns that have shadowed the toxic additive from
    its first, tentative appearance on US roads in the twenties, through a
    period of international ubiquity only recently ending. Since the
    virtual disappearance of leaded gas in the United States (it's still
    sold for use in propeller airplanes), the mean blood-lead level of the
    American population has declined more than 75 percent. A 1985 EPA
    study estimated that as many as 5,000 Americans died annually from
    lead-related heart disease prior to the country's lead phaseout.
    According to a 1988 report to Congress on childhood lead poisoning in
    America by the government's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
    Registry, one can estimate that the blood-lead levels of up to 2
    million children were reduced every year to below toxic levels between
    1970 and 1987 as leaded gasoline use was reduced. From that report and
    elsewhere, one can conservatively estimate that a total of about 68
    million young children had toxic exposures to lead from gasoline from
    1927 to 1987.

    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. But the story must be
    recounted now. The leaded gas adventurers have profitably polluted the
    world on a grand scale and, in the process, have provided a model for
    the asbestos, tobacco, pesticide and nuclear power industries, and
    other twentieth-century corporate bad actors, for evading clear
    evidence that their products are harmful by hiding behind the mantle
    of scientific uncertainty.

    This is not just a textbook example of unnecessary environmental
    degradation, however. Nor is this history important solely as a
    cautionary retort to those who would doubt the need for aggressive
    regulation of industry, when commercial interests ask us to sanction
    genetically modified food on the basis of their own scientific
    assurances, just as the merchants of lead once did. The leaded
    gasoline story must also be read as a call to action, for the lead
    menace lives.


    š the severe health hazards of leaded gasoline were known to its
    makers and clearly identified by the US public health community more
    than seventy-five years ago, but were steadfastly denied by the
    makers, because they couldn't be immediately quantified;

    š other, safer antiknock additives--used to increase gasoline octane
    and counter engine "knock"--were known and available to oil companies
    and the makers of lead antiknocks before the lead additive was
    discovered, but they were covered up and denied, then fought,
    suppressed and unfairly maligned for decades to follow;

    š the US government was fully apprised of leaded gasoline's
    potentially hazardous effects and was aware of available alternatives,
    yet was complicit in the cover-up and even actively assisted the
    profiteers in spreading the use of leaded gasoline to foreign

    š the benefits of lead antiknock additives were wildly and knowingly
    overstated in the beginning, and continue to be. Lead is not only bad
    for the planet and all its life forms, it is actually bad for cars and
    always was;

    š for more than four decades, all scientific research regarding the
    health implications of leaded gasoline was underwritten and controlled
    by the original lead cabal--Du Pont, GM and Standard Oil; such
    research invariably favored the industry's pro-lead views, but was
    from the outset fatally flawed; independent scientists who would
    finally catch up with the earlier work's infirmities and debunk them
    were--and continue to be--threatened and defamed by the lead interests
    and their hired hands;

    š confronted in recent years with declining sales in their biggest
    Western markets, owing to lead phaseouts imposed in the United States
    and, more recently, Europe, the current sellers of lead additives have
    successfully stepped up efforts to market their wares in the
    less-developed world, efforts that persist and have resulted in some
    countries today placing more lead in their gasoline, per gallon, than
    was typically used in the West, extra lead that serves no purpose
    other than profit;

    š faced with lead's demise and their inevitable days of reckoning,
    these firms have used the extraordinary financial returns that lead
    additive sales afford to hurriedly fund diversification into less
    risky, more conventional businesses, while taking a page from the
    tobacco companies' playbook and simultaneously moving to reorganize
    their corporate structures to shield ownership and management from
    liability for blanketing the earth with a deadly heavy metal.

    You can choose whether to smoke, but you can't pick the air you
    breathe, even if it is contaminated by lead particles from automobile
    exhaust. Seventy-five years ago, well-known industrialists like GM's
    Alfred Sloan and Charles Kettering (remembered today for having
    founded the prestigious Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) and
    the powerful brothers Pierre and Irenne du Pont added to their
    substantial fortunes and did the planet very dirty by disregarding the
    common-sense truth that no good can come from burning a long-known
    poison in internal-combustion engines.

    The steady emergence of improved methodology and finer, more sensitive
    measuring equipment has allowed scientists to prove lead's tragic toll
    with increasing precision. The audacity of today's lead-additive
    makers' conduct mounts with each new study weighing in against them.
    Because lead particles in automobile exhaust travel in wind, rain and
    snow, which know no national boundaries, lead makers and refiners who
    peddle leaded gasoline knowingly injure not only the local populations
    using their product but men, mice and fish tens of thousands of miles

    GM and Standard Oil sold their leaded gasoline subsidiary, the Ethyl
    Gasoline Corporation, to Albemarle Paper in 1962, while Du Pont only
    cleaned up its act recently, but all hope to leave their leaded
    gasoline paternity a hushed footnote to their inglorious pasts. The
    principal maker of lead additive today (the Associated Octel Company
    of Ellesmere Port, England) and its foremost salesmen (Octel and the
    Ethyl corporation of Richmond, Virginia) acknowledge what they see as
    a political reality: Their product will one day be run out of
    business. But they plan to keep on selling it in the Third World
    profitably until they can sell it no longer. They continue to deny
    lead's dangers while overrating its virtues, reprising the central
    tenets of the lead mythology chartered by GM, Du Pont and Standard
    lifetimes ago.

    These mighty corporations should pay Ethyl and Octel for keeping their
    old lies alive. They'll need them, in their most up-to-the-minute and
    media-friendly fashion: Because of the harm caused by leaded gasoline
    they have been joined to a class-action suit brought in a circuit
    court in Maryland against the makers of that other product of lead's
    excruciating toxic reign: lead paint. Along with the makers of lead
    paint and the lead trade organizations with whom they both once worked
    in close concert, suppliers and champions of lead gasoline
    additives--Ethyl, Du Pont and PPG--have been named as defendants in
    the suit.

    Though the number of cases of lead poisoning has been falling
    nationwide, the lead dust in exhaust spewed by automobiles in the past
    century will continue to haunt us in this one, coating our roads,
    buildings and soil, subtly indefinitely contaminating our homes,
    belongings and food.

                            THE PROBLEM WITH LEAD

    Lead is poison, a potent neurotoxin whose sickening and deadly effects
    have been known for nearly 3,000 years and written about by historical
    figures from the Greek poet and physician Nikander and the Roman
    architect Vitruvius to Benjamin Franklin. Odorless, colorless and
    tasteless, lead can be detected only through chemical analysis. Unlike
    such carcinogens and killers as pesticides, most chemicals, waste oils
    and even radioactive materials, lead does not break down over time. It
    does not vaporize, and it never disappears.

    For this reason, most of the estimated 7 million tons of lead burned
    in gasoline in the United States in the twentieth century remains--in
    the soil, air and water and in the bodies of living organisms.
    Worldwide, it is estimated that modem man's lead exposure is 300 to
    500 times greater than background or natural levels. Indeed, a 1983
    report by Britain's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
    concluded that lead was dispersed so widely by man in the twentieth
    century that "it is doubtful whether any part of the earth's surface
    or any form of life remains uncontaminated by anthropogenic [man-made]
    lead." While lead from mining, paint, smelting and other sources is
    still a serious environmental problem, a recent report by the
    government's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    estimated that the burning of gasoline has accounted for 90 percent of
    lead placed in the atmosphere since the 1920s. (The magnitude of this
    fact is placed in relief when one considers the estimate of the US
    Public Health Service that the associated health costs from a parallel
    problem-the remaining lead paint in America's older housing--total in
    the multibillions.)

    Classical acute lead poisoning occurs at high levels of exposure, and
    its symptoms-blindness, brain damage, kidney disease, convulsions and
    cancer--olden leading, of course, to death, are not hard to identify.
    The effects of pervasive exposure to lower levels of lead are more
    easily miscredited; lead poisoning has been called an "aping disease"
    because its symptoms are so frequently those of other known ailments.
    Children are the first and worst victims of leaded gas; because of
    their immaturity, they are most susceptible to systemic and
    neurological injury, including lowered IQs, reading and learning
    disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity,
    behavioral problems and interference with growth. Because they often
    go undetected for some time, such maladies are particularly insidious.
    In adults, elevated blood-lead levels are related to hypertension and
    cardiovascular disease, particularly strokes, heart attacks and
    premature deaths. Lead exposure before or during pregnancy is
    especially serious, harming the mother's own body, affecting fetal
    development and frequently leading to miscarriage. In the eighties the
    EPA estimated that the health damages from airborne lead cost American
    society billions each year. In Venezuela, where the state oil company
    sold only leaded gasoline until 1999, a recent report found 63 percent
    of newborn children with blood-lead levels in excess of the so-called
    safe levels promulgated by the US government.

                         THE SEARCH FOR AN ANTIKNOCK

    On December 9, 1921, a young engineer named Thomas Midgley Jr.,
    working in the laboratory of the General Motors Research Corporation
    in Dayton, Ohio, reported to his boss, Charles Kettering, that he'd
    discovered that tetraethyl lead--a little-known compound of metallic
    lead and one of the alkyl series, also referred to as lead tetraethyl
    or TEL--worked to reduce "knock" or "pinging" in internal-combustion

    Tetraethyl lead was first discovered by a German chemist in 1854. A
    technical curiosity, it was not used commercially on account of "its
    known deadliness." It is highly poisonous, and even casual cumulative
    contact with it was known to cause hallucinations, difficulty in
    breathing and, in the worst cases, madness, spasms, palsies,
    asphyxiation and death. Still unused in 1921, sixty-seven years after
    its invention, it was not an obvious choice as a gasoline additive.

    In the laboratories of Charles Kettering, however, the search for a
    gasoline additive to cure "knock" had been going on for some years
    prior to Midgley's rediscovery of TEL. In 1911 Kettering had invented
    the electric self-starter--a landmark development in automotive
    history that eliminated dangerous hand-cranking and enabled many
    Americans (particularly women) to drive for the first time, arguably
    killing steam and electric cars in the process. This invention would
    make "Boss" Kettering rich, famous and beloved to a nation falling in
    love with its wheels. Thanks to the starter, the folksy inventor's new
    firm, Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or DELCO, received its
    first big order, for $10 million, from the upstart General Motors
    Corporation, founded only three years earlier by William Crapo Durant.

    GM's 1912 Cadillac was equipped with DELCO's self-starter and battery
    ignition. When customers reported that the engine of this luxury
    automobile had an alarming tendency to knock--a sharp, metallic sound
    hinting at damage being done inside the engine--critics blamed
    Kettering's electrical components.

    Kettering was convinced, rightly, that knocking was a function of an
    engine's fuel rather than ignition problems. When Kettering and his
    partners sold DELCO to Durant's GM and its new partner--Alfred Sloan's
    Hyatt Roller Bearings--in 1916, his lab was already engaged in a
    search for the cure. Following the sale, this work was transferred to
    his new firm, the Dayton Research Laboratories, where a newly hired
    assistant, Thomas Midgley, was assigned to study the problem of engine

    Stabbing in the dark, Midgley got lucky quickly when he added iodine
    to the fuel, stopping knock in a test engine and establishing for all
    time that the malady--premature combustion of the fuel/air
    mixture--was connected to the explosive qualities of the fuel, what
    would later be called "octane." Iodine raised octane and cured knock;
    however, it was corrosive and prohibitively expensive. Inspired by the
    fundamental breakthrough, Midgley nonetheless carried on with fuel
    research, testing every substance he could find for antiknock
    properties, "from melted butter and camphor to ethyl acetate and
    aluminum chloride." Unfortunately, "most of them had no more effect
    than spitting in the Great Lakes."

                         THE ANTIKNOCK THAT GOT AWAY

    Automotive engineers knew by this time that engines that didn't knock
    would not only operate more smoothly. They could also be designed to
    run with higher compression in the cylinders, which would allow more
    efficient operation, resulting in greater fuel economy, greater power
    or some harmonious combination of the two. The key was finding a fuel
    with higher octane. Though octane sufficient for use in
    high-compression engines had been achievable since 1913 through a
    process called thermal cracking, the process required added
    expenditures on plant and equipment, which tightfisted oil refiners
    didn't relish. The nation's fuel supply remained resolutely low grade,
    a situation that troubled Kettering.

    By limiting allowable compression, low-octane fuel meant cars would be
    burning more gasoline. Like many visionary engineers, Kettering was
    enamored of conservation as a first principle. As a businessman, he
    also shared persistent fears at the time that world oil supplies were
    running out. Low octane and low compression meant lower gas mileage
    and more rapid exhaustion of a dwindling fuel supply. Inevitably,
    demand for new automobiles would fade.

    By 1917 Kettering and his staff had trained their octane-boosting
    sights on ethyl alcohol, also known as grain alcohol (the kind you
    drink), power alcohol or ethanol. In tests supervised by Kettering and
    Midgley for the Army Air Corps at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio,
    researchers concluded that alcohols were among the best antiknock
    fuels but were not ideal for aircraft engines unless used as an
    additive, in a blend with gasoline. This undoubtedly led Kettering to
    concur with an April 13, 1918, Scientific American report: "It is now
    definitely established that alcohol can be blended with gasoline to
    produce a suitable motor fuel."

    The story of TEEs rise, then, is very much the story of the oil
    companies' and lead interests' war against ethanol as an
    octane-boosting additive that could be mixed with gasoline or, in
    their worst nightmare, burned straight as a replacement for gasoline.
    For more than a hundred years, Big Oil has reckoned ethanol to be
    fundamentally inimical to its interest, and, viewing its interest
    narrowly, Big Oil might not be wrong. By contrast, GM's subsequent
    antipathy to alcohol was a profit-motivated attitude adjustment.
    Alcohol initially held much fascination for the company, for good
    reason. Ethanol is always plentiful and easy to make, with a long
    history in America, not just as a fuel additive but as a pure fuel.
    The first prototype internal-combustion engine in 1826 used alcohol
    and turpentine. Prior to the Civil War alcohol was the most widely
    used illuminating fuel in the country. Indeed, alcohol powered the
    first engine by the German inventor Nicholas August Otto, father of
    the four-stroke internal-combustion engines powering our cars today.
    More important, by the time of Kettering's antiknock inquiry, alcohol
    was a proven automotive fuel.

    As the automobile era picked up speed, scientific journals were filled
    with references to alcohol. Tests in 1906 by the Department of
    Agriculture underscored its power and economy benefits. In 1907 and
    1908 the US Geological Survey and the Navy performed 2,000 tests on
    alcohol and gasoline engines in Norfolk, Virginia, and St. Louis,
    concluding that higher engine compression could be achieved with
    alcohol than with gasoline. They noted a complete absence of smoke and
    disagreeable odors.

    Despite many attempts by Big Oil to stifle its home-grown competitor
    (one time-honored gambit: lobbying legislators to pass punitive
    taxation thwarting alcohol's economic viability), power alcohol would
    number among its adherents several highly regarded inventors and
    scientists, including Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Henry
    Ford built his very first car to run on what he called farm alcohol.
    As late as 1925, after the advent of TEL, the high priest of American
    industry would predict in an interview with the Christian Science
    Monitor that ethanol--"fuel from vegetation"--would be the "fuel of
    the future." Four years later, early examples of his Model A car would
    be equipped with a dashboard knob to adjust its carburetor to run on
    gasoline or alcohol.

    Ethanol made a lot of sense to a practical Ohio farm boy like
    Kettering. It was renewable, made from surplus crops and crop waste,
    and nontoxic. It delivered higher octane than gasoline (though it
    contained less power per gallon), and it burned more cleanly. By 1920,
    as Kettering was aware, a US Naval Committee had concluded that
    alcohol-gasoline blends "withstand high compression without producing

    Higher compression was, after all, what the GM men were after. In
    February 1920, shortly after joining General Motors' employ, Thomas
    Midgley filed a patent application for a blend of alcohol and cracked
    (olefin) gasoline, as an antiknock fuel. Later that month K.W.
    Zimmerschied of GM's New York headquarters wrote Kettering, observing
    that foreign use of alcohol fuel "is getting more serious every day in
    connection with export cars, and anything we can do toward building
    our carburetors so they can be easily adapted to alcohol will be
    appreciated by all." Kettering assured him that adaptation for alcohol
    fuel "is a thing which is very readily taken care of" by exchanging
    metal carburetor floats for lacquered cork ones. GM was concerned
    (albeit temporarily) about an imminent disruption in oil supply, and
    alcohol-powered cars could keep its factories open. An internal GM
    report that year stated ominously, "This year will see the maximum
    production of petroleum that this country will ever know."

                             ETHANOL ON THE MARCH

    In October 1921, less than two months before he hatched leaded
    gasoline, Thomas Midgley drove a high-compression-engined car from
    Dayton to a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers in
    Indianapolis, using a gasoline-ethanol blended fuel containing 30
    percent alcohol. "Alcohol," he told the assembled engineers, "has
    tremendous advantages and minor disadvantages." The benefits included
    'clean burning and freedom from any carbon deposit...[and]
    tremendously high compression under which alcohol will operate without
    knocking.... Because of the possible high compression, the available
    horsepower is much greater with alcohol than with gasoline."

    After four years' study, GM researchers had proved it: Ethanol was the
    additive of choice. Their estimation would be confirmed by others. In
    the thirties, after leaded gasoline was introduced to the United
    States but before it dominated in Europe, two successful English
    brands of gas--Cleveland Discoll and Kool Motor-contained 30 percent
    and 16 percent alcohol, respectively. As it happened, Cleveland
    Discoll was part-owned by Ethyl's half-owner, Standard Oil of New
    Jersey (Kool Motor was owned by the US oil company Cities Service,
    today Citgo). While their US colleagues were slandering alcohol fuels
    before Congressional committees in the thirties, Standard Oil's men in
    England would claim, in advertising pamphlets, that ethanol-laced,
    lead-free petrol offered "the most perfect motor fuel the world has
    ever known," providing "extra power, extra economy, and extra

    For a change, the oil companies spoke the truth. Today, in the
    postlead era, ethanol is routinely blended into gasoline to raise
    octane and as an emissions-reducing oxygenate. Race cars often run on
    pure ethanol. Daimler-Chrysler and Ford earn credits allowing them to
    sell additional gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles by engineering
    so-called flex-vehicles that will run on clean-burning E85, an 85
    percent ethanol/ gasoline blend. GM helped underwrite the 1999 Ethanol
    Vehicle Challenge, which saw college engineering students easily
    converting standard GM pickup trucks to run on E85, producing hundreds
    of bonus horsepower. Ethanol's technical difficulties have been
    surmounted and its cost--as an octane-boosting additive rather than a
    pure fuel--is competitive with the industry's preferred
    octane-boosting oxygenate, MTBE, a petroleum-derived suspected
    carcinogen with an affinity for groundwater that was recently outlawed
    in California. With MTBE's fall from grace, many refiners--including
    Getty, which took out a full-page ad in the New York Times
    congratulating itself for doing so--returned to ethanol long after it
    was first developed as a clean-burning octane booster.

                                ENTER DU PONT

    In 1919 GM purchased Kettering's Dayton research laboratory. The
    following year the company installed him as vice president of research
    of the renamed General Motors Research Corporation.

    No longer the shambling, anarchic outfit it had been under the
    inveterate risk-taker W.C. Durant, GM was now to be run in the
    militarily precise mold of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company of
    Wilmington, Delaware. Awash in a sea of gunpowder profits from World
    War I, the du Pont family had been increasing its stake in GM since
    1914. By 1920 it controlled more than 35 percent of GM shares and
    moved to pack the board, installing professional management, with the
    du Pont faction taking control of the corporation's all-powerful
    finance committee.

    Caught short by a margin call in the recession of 1920, Durant, GM's
    colorful founder, lost his stake and was forced by the du Pont family
    to walk the plank (he would spend his final days running a bowling
    alley). One of the clan's craftiest patriarchs, Pierre du Pont, was
    coaxed from retirement and named GM's interim president; Alfred Sloan,
    who had demonstrated the cold-hearted allegiance to the bottom line
    the du Ponts revered, became executive vice president preparatory to
    assuming the top slot. The pressure on all concerned, including
    Kettering and his research division, was to make money and to make it

    Lest there be any misunderstanding, Sloan wrote to Kettering in
    September of 1920, alerting him to the du Ponts' new math: "Although
    [the Research Corporation] is not a productive unit and a unit that is
    supposed to make a profit, nevertheless the more tangible result we
    get from it the stronger its position will be....

    It may be inferred at some future time...that we are spending too much
    money down there [in Dayton] and being in a position to show what
    benefits had accrued to the corporation would strengthen our position

    That time would come soon enough for Kettering to deliver. An
    air-cooled engine he'd championed--copper-cooled, he called it--would
    soon prove a costly disaster for GM. Fortunately for him, immediately
    after joining GM he had given his trusted assistant Midgley two weeks
    to find something to ignite the new management's interest in funding
    continued fuel research. Though it would take somewhat longer than two
    weeks to fire their masters' enthusiasm, "Midge" succeeded.

                            AND THE WINNER IS ...

    The effect of this sudden time constraint was striking. As GM
    researcher and Kettering biographer T.A. Boyd noted in an unpublished
    history written in 1943, Midgley's main research in 1919-20 had been
    to make alcohols out of olefins found in petroleum through reactions
    with sulfuric acid. (Farm alcohol was one thing, but a patentable
    process for production of petroleum-derived alcohol--a possible
    money-maker--was quite another, one of considerably greater interest
    to the corporation.) "But in view of the verdict setting a time limit
    on how much further the research for an antiknock compound might
    continue," Boyd said, "work was resumed at once in making engine tests
    of whatever further compounds happened to be available on the shelf of
    the lab.., or which could be gotten readily."

    As noted earlier, Midgley tested many compounds before isolating
    tetraethyl lead in December 1921. In the early days, he would
    attribute the discovery of TEL's antiknock properties to "luck and
    religion, as well as the application of science." In a 1925 magazine
    article, he would recall false trails with iodine, aniline, selenium
    and tellurium before hitting upon lead. Curiously, his article omitted
    any reference to the alcohol-gasoline blend he'd patented just five
    years earlier.

    Another oddity: The exact number of compounds tested prior to TEEs
    discovery varies dramatically in different accounts. As Professor
    William Kovarik of Radford University has observed, confusion reigns
    in part because the lab's day-to-day test diaries have never been
    released to the public by the General Motors Institute (GMI) archive.
    In the words of one archivist there, GM's lead archives have been
    "sanitized." One 1925 article in the Litera rv Digest put the number
    at 2,500 compounds tested, while The Story of Ethyl Gasoline, a 1927
    pamphlet released by a company Midgley would help found, states that
    33,000 were studied. Another time, he claimed 14,991 elements were
    examined, while a 1980 Ethyl corporation statement set the number at
    144. This question is important because GM's discovery of lead's
    antiknock properties, which initially caused little internal
    excitement, would be hailed in popular media and later cited in
    polytechnical texts as a model of rational, orderly scientific inquiry
    that sought the single best answer to the knock question. A more
    realistic view of events is that TEL's re-emergence in the twenties
    was the result of a crude empirical potshot that was understood to
    promise a landslide of earnings over time.

    Apprised of Midgley's discovery that one part TEL could be used to
    fortify 1,000 parts of gasoline, Kettering proposed the name "Ethyl"
    for the new antiknock fluid, a mild irony in light of both men's
    longtime--and soon to fade--interest in ethyl alcohol. At researcher
    Boyd's suggestion Ethyl was dyed red. There was as yet, however, no
    plan to market Ethyl. Indeed, in July 1922, seven months after TEL's
    discovery, J.W. Morrison of the GM Patent Department would encourage
    Midgley to "see if the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Co. have opened a
    valuable line of research. Mr. Clements [the lab manager at GM] stated
    some time ago that it might be worth our while to carry our
    investigations further on the problem of utilizing alcohols in motors.
    I think he mentioned specifically combinations of alcohol and

    From the corporation's perspective, however, the problems with ethyl
    alcohol were ultimately insurmountable and rather basic. GM couldn't
    dictate an infrastructure that could supply ethanol in the volumes
    that might be required. Equally troubling, any idiot with a still
    could make it at home, and in those days, many did. And ethanol,
    unlike TEL, couldn't be patented; it offered no profits for GM.
    Moreover, the oil companies hated it, a powerful disincentive for the
    fledgling GM, which was loath to jeopardize relations with these
    mighty power brokers. Surely the du Pont family's growing interest in
    oil and oil fields, as it branched out from its gunpowder roots into
    the oil-dependent chemical business, weighed on many GM directors'

    In March 1922, Pierre du Pont wrote to his brother Irenee du Pont, Du
    Pont company chairman, that TEL is "a colorless liquid of sweetish
    odor, very poisonous if absorbed through the skin, resulting in lead
    poisoning almost immediately." This statement of early factual
    knowledge of TEEs supreme deadliness is noteworthy, for it is
    knowledge that will be denied repeatedly by the principals in coming
    years as well as in the Ethyl Corporation's authorized history,
    released almost sixty years later. Underscoring the deep and implicit
    coziness between GM and Du Pont at this time, Pierre informed Irene
    about TEL before GM had even filed its patent application for it.

                         THE RISE OF TETRAETHYL LEAD

    With the application filed, the groundwork was laid for manufacture of
    TEL. An October 1922 agreement contracted Du Pont to supply GM.
    Signing for GM was Pierre du Pont; signing for Du Pont: his brother
    Irenee. Manufacturing began in 1923 with a small operation in Dayton,
    Ohio, that made 160 gallons of tetraethyl lead a day and shipped it
    out in one-liter bottles, each of which would treat 300 gallons of

    In February 1923 the world's first tankful of leaded gasoline was
    pumped at Refiners Oil Company, at the corner of Sixth and Main
    streets, in Dayton, Ohio, from a station owned by Kettering's friend
    Willard Talbott. But four months earlier, an agitated William
    Mansfield Clark, a lab director in the US Public Health Service, had
    written A.M. Stimson, assistant Surgeon General at the PHS, warning
    that Du Pont was preparing to manufacture TEL at its plant in
    Deepwater, New Jersey. It constituted a "serious menace to public
    health" he stated, with reports already emerging from the plant that
    "several very serious cases of lead poisoning have resulted" in pilot

    Clark additionally speculated that widespread use of TEL would mean
    "on busy thoroughfares it is highly probable that the lead oxide dust
    will remain in the lower stratum." Estimating that each gallon of
    gasoline burned would emit four grams of lead oxide, he worded that
    this would build up to dangerous levels along heavily traveled roads
    and in tunnels.

    Stimson was troubled enough by Clark's letter to request that the
    PHS's Division of Pharmacology conduct investigations; unfortunately,
    the division's director responded, such trials would be too
    time-consuming. He suggested that the PHS rely upon industry to supply
    the relevant data, a spectacularly poor plan that would amount to
    government policy for the next forty years.

    Perhaps spurred by Clark's missive and Stimson's concern, in December
    1922 the US Surgeon General, H.S. Cumming, wrote Pierre du Pont:
    "Inasmuch as it is understood that when employed in gasoline engines,
    this substance will add a finely divided and non-diffusible form of
    lead to exhaust gases, and furthermore, since lead poisoning in human
    beings is of the cumulative type resulting frequently from the daily
    intake of minute quantities, it seems pertinent to inquire whether
    there might not be a decided health hazard associated with the
    extensive use of lead tetraethyl in engines."

                           BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS ...

    The year 1923 did not begin well, then, for supporters of tetraethyl
    lead. In January, on account of lead poisoning, Thomas Midgley was
    forced to decline speaking engagements at three regional panels of the
    American Chemical Society, which had awarded him a medal for his
    discovery. "After about a year's work in organic lead," he wrote, "I
    find that my lungs have been affected and that it is necessary to drop
    all work and get a large supply of fresh air." He repaired to Miami.

    Before leaving town, Midgley penned a reply to Cumming's letter, which
    had been passed on to him by Pierre du Pont. Although the question
    "had been given very serious consideration," he wrote, "...no actual
    experimental data has been taken." Even so, Midgley assured the
    Surgeon General, GM and Du Pont believed that "the average street will
    probably be so free from lead that it will be impossible to detect it
    or its absorption." In other words, TEL, the deadly chemical
    curiosity, was being brought to market without any thought or study as
    to its public health implications, but rather on the hopeful hunch of
    a clever mechanical engineer who, had just been poisoned by lead.

    Around this time, Midgley had also begun to receive letters expressing
    grave concern over TEL from well-known public health and medical
    authorities at leading universities, including Robert Wilson of MIT,
    Reid Hunt of Harvard, Yandell Henderson of Yale (America's foremost
    expert on poison gases and automotive exhaust) and Dr. Erik Krause of
    the Institute of Technology, Potsdam, Germany. Krause called TEL "a
    creeping and malicious poison," and he told Midgley it had killed a
    member of his dissertation committee. Charles Kettering may have been
    concerned by this growing chorus of TEL critics, but the early months
    of 1923 saw his mind preoccupied with another matter. In May of that
    year, after four costly years of development, Kettering's beloved
    copper-cooled engine was abandoned as a production program, a
    high-profile embarrassment within the company and the larger
    automotive community. "It was then," wrote Kettering's research
    assistant and biographer, T.A. Boyd, some years later, "that his
    spirits reached the lowest point in his research career."

    The abject failure of the copper-cooled engine led the fiercely proud
    Kettering to believe his personal capital in the company had been
    terminally depleted. "Since this thing with the CopperCooled Car has
    come up," he wrote Alfred Sloan (who became GM's president in 1923),
    "the Laboratory has been practically isolated from Corporation
    activities." Kettering's shame was so enormous that he tendered his
    resignation in a letter to Sloan. "I regret very much that this
    situation has developed. I have been extremely unhappy and know that I
    have made you and Mr. du Pont equally unhappy. ... work here at the
    Laboratory, I realize, has been almost 100% failure, but not because
    of the fundamental principles involved. Enough may come out of the
    Laboratory to have paid for their existence but no one will care to
    continue in Research activities as the situation now stands."

                                'MY DEAR BOSS'

    Sloan declined to let Kettering go. But America's most famous
    automotive engineer after Henry Ford emerged with a renewed
    sensitivity to the profit-making needs of his corporation. In this
    regard, TEL held out an immediate lifeline. Writing Kettering from
    Florida in March 1923, Midgley related a mad brainstorm whose
    relevance had now become fully clear to Kettering. "My dear boss," he
    began, "The way I feel about the Ethyl Gas situation is about as
    follows: It looks as though we could count on a minimum of 20 percent
    of the gas sold in the country if we advertise and go after the
    business--this at three cent gross to us from each gallon sold. I
    think we ought to go after it as soon as we can without being too

    Midgley barely scratched the surface of the wealth to come. 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.
    Profit-free ethanol, indeed. As Kovarik has calculated: "With gasoline
    sales [in 1923] around six billion gallons per year, 20 percent would
    come to about 1.2 billion gallons, and three cents gross would
    represent $36 million. With the cost of production and distribution
    running less than one cent per gallon of treated gasoline, more than
    two thirds of the $36 million would be annual gross profit. Of course,
    within a decade 80 percent of the then 12 billion gallon market used
    Ethyl, for an annual gross of almost $300 million."

    The fears of excessive hastiness expressed in Midgley's letter were
    evidently allayed. In April 1923, one month after he'd performed his
    riveting calculations, the General Motors Chemical Company was
    established to produce TEL, with Charles Kettering as president and
    Thomas Midgley as vice president.

                        OCTANE, THE MOTORIST'S FRIEND

    Beginning in 1921, GM's executive committee began to articulate the
    first principles that would come to be known as Sloanism--that is,
    planned obsolescence and product differentiation through speed, power,
    style and color; "a car for every purse and purpose," as Sloan was
    fond of saying.

    Between 1922 and the end of the decade, Sloan and his GM associates
    would devise marketing strategies that would see GM overtake Ford as
    the world's largest automobile manufacturer and set the tone for the
    next fifty years of American automotive consumption. Central to this
    growth would be an awareness that consumers were no longer looking
    merely for basic transportation, which was the stock in trade of
    Ford's beloved Model T. In addition to consumer financing (which Ford
    opposed), Sloan was convinced that style, snob appeal and speed would
    help GM steal its customers away. He was fight.

    Following the failure of his copper-cooled engine, Kettering rejigged
    his arguments for TEL for internal--definitely not
    public--consumption. As it happened, the new additive could be fitted
    neatly into the Sloanist equation. For while it was initially seen by
    Kettering and his staff as a way to cure knock and to husband
    fossil-fuel supplies, the high compression it enabled in motors was
    just as easily exploited to make cars faster and more powerful, thus
    easier to sell. Alan Loeb, a former EPA attorney and lead historian
    who has examined the period closely, has neatly summed up Kettering's
    conversion: "By 1923...it was clear that Kettering's original purpose
    for the antiknock research had given way to GM's desire to improve
    auto performance without regard for its effect on fuel economy. ...
    Kettering did not give up on efficiency and conservation as his own
    ideals, but ever after he knew better than to try to push a product
    that would not sell. In later years, even as Kettering's advocacy of
    conservation became more and more public, it represented GM's true
    motive less and less."

    Tellingly, Ethyl's earliest advertisements dealt solely with speed and
    power and invariably neglected to mention its active ingredient: lead.
    Boasted a September 1927 ad that ran in National Geographic: "As an
    Ethyl user, you have the benefits of greatly increased speed, more
    power on hills and heavy roads. Quicker acceleration and complete
    elimination of 'knock.' But the real high compression automobile is
    here at last! Ethyl gasoline has made it possible! Ride with Ethyl in
    a high compression motor and get the thrill of a lifetime."

    With the advent of the Depression in the thirties, Ethyl's advertising
    nodded to the economic realities of the day but still focused on
    power. An ad that ran in February 1933 contains a Norman Rockwellesque
    portrait of a small boy who is complaining to his embarrassed father,
    "Gee, Pop--they're all passing you." The accompanying text rubs it in.
    "They didn't pass you when your car was bright and new--and you still
    don't like to be left behind. So just remember this: the next best
    thing to a brand new car is your present car with Ethyl."


    With the formation of the GM Chemical Company, work on a large-scale
    Du Pont TEL plant began immediately.

    Irenee du Pont hailed his company's technical director, W.F.
    Harrington: "It is essential that we treat this under-taking like a
    war order so far as making speed and producing the output, not only in
    order to fulfill the terms of the contract as to time but because
    every day saved means one day advantage over possible competition."

    Significantly, GM's patent on TEL would have covered any threat from
    competing makers of lead additive. Thus, as Kovarik has reasoned, the
    competition referred to must have been from those who would have
    offered a different kind of antiknock. GM, Du Pont and TEEs other
    backers would long publicly claim there were no conceivable
    alternatives to the lead antiknock additive. But the facts were
    otherwise. Ethanol was still out there. And GM negotiated throughout
    the twenties with Germany's I.G. Farben over an additive it made from
    iron carbonyl. Then, in August 1925, Kettering himself joyously
    announced "Synthol," a blended automotive fuel of benzene and alcohol
    that promised to "double gas mileage." There was, as we shall see, an
    unexpected--and momentary-business need for Synthol. The point is,
    there were alternatives.

    In a public relations coup, Ethyl leaded gasoline fueled the top three
    finishers at the Indianapolis 500 motor race on Memorial Day, 1923.
    With demand skyrocketing, Kettering signed exclusive contracts with
    Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon), Standard Oil of Indiana (later
    Amoco, more lately merged with BP) and Gulf Oil (owned by the Mellon
    interests) for East Coast, Midwest and Southern distribution,
    respectively, of leaded gasoline.

                               TETRAETHYL DEATH

    In August, Du Pont's TEL plant opened at Deepwater, New Jersey, across
    the Delaware River from Wilmington. 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

    Even so, news of these and similar deaths would inevitably come out.
    Realizing that its own medical research would be less than credible
    then, and having been turned down by reputable academics and the
    Public Health Service in its search for consultants to help "refute
    any false propaganda," 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."

    Indicative of the bureau leadership's fundamental outlook was an
    exchange between the superintendent of its Pittsburgh field station,
    where the TEL investigation was being conducted, and the bureau's
    chief chemist, S.C. Lind. By letter, Lind had objected to the use of
    the trade name "Ethyl" when referring to tetraethyl lead gasoline.

    "Of course their [GM officials] object in doing so is fairly clear,
    and among other things they are not particularly desirous of having
    the name 'lead' appear in this case. That is alright from the
    standpoint of the General Motors Company but it is quite a question in
    my mind as to whether the Bureau of Mines would be justified in
    adopting this name so early in the game."

    The superintendent replied that omission of "the use of the word
    'lead' in the inter-bureau correspondence" was intentional to prevent
    leaks to the papers. "If it should happen to get some publicity
    accidentally, it would not be so bad if the word 'lead' were omitted
    as this term is apt to prejudice somewhat against its use."

    Indeed, lead had acquired a bad name by 1920, as scientific and public
    awareness of its supreme deadliness as an occupational and pediatric
    hazard was increasing. Then, in April 1924, two GM employees engaged
    in the manufacture of TEL at a pilot plant in Dayton also died of lead
    poisoning. Large numbers of nonfatal poisonings were noted at this
    time. Thomas Midgley was said to be "depressed to the point of
    considering giving up the whole tetraethyl lead program." But
    Kettering, emerging from his copper-cooled funk, wouldn't slow down.
    Two months later, he would urge Du Pont to step up production. At the
    same time, seeking even greater control over Bureau of Mines test
    results, GM stipulated that "all manuscripts, before publication, will
    be submitted to the Company for comment and criticism."

    By any measure, the TEL constituency had experienced a run of rum
    luck, and in June 1924 GM president Sloan, "gravely concerned about
    the poison hazard" and deaths at TEL plants in Dayton and Deepwater,
    approved the formation of a medical committee, with J. Gilman
    Thompson, consulting physician to Standard Oil of New Jersey (which
    had been marketing Ethyl and dabbling in its manufacture), as
    chairman. Summing up the gloomy feeling all around at this time, Du
    Pont chairman Irenee du Pont wrote Sloan at GM that TEL "may be killed
    by a better substitute or because of its poisonous character or
    because of its [destructive] action on the engine."

    Following its investigation, GM's medical committee delivered what was
    apparently a negative and highly cautionary report on TEL. But Irenee
    du Pont, having undergone some sort of conversion or, possibly, having
    remembered his family's lifelong devotion to profit at any cost, wrote
    Sloan on August 29, 1924, and told him not to worry: "I have read the
    doctors' report and am not disturbed by the severity of the findings."
    Another product his firm made--nitroglycerin--was even more hazardous
    to make, du Pont added breezily, while lead dust from car exhaust was
    but nothing compared to erosion from lead paint. Years later, this
    would become a major plank of TEL supporters' defense.

    For some unknown reason, the report of Sloan's blue-ribbon medical
    committee, like many original documents referenced in GM reports on
    TEL, is not available in the company's public archives.

                                 HELLO, ETHYL

    Meanwhile, Standard Oil of New Jersey had developed a faster, cheaper
    method of synthesizing TEL. In August 1924 production began in a
    makeshift works at its Bayway plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. GM still
    held the TEL patent, but Standard now had the better manufacturing
    technology and a patent of its own to prove it.

    To the apparent surprise of some at Du Pont, which had not been
    producing the fluid fast enough for GM's liking, the oil company (one
    of twenty-seven companies formed by the 1911 breakup of Rockefeller's
    Standard Oil Trust) and the automobile company formed a joint venture,
    which they called the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation. Why, one wonders,
    would GM deign to form Ethyl, a new company, with Standard? "In the
    first place," Sloan would testify in a 1952 antitrust suit, "I
    recognized that General Motors organization had no competence
    whatsoever in chemical manufacture. We were mechanical people dealing
    in metal processing." The deaths at Day ton would certainly support
    this modest assessment. Sloan would also later record his view that
    management should not get sidetracked on non-core businesses. But
    there were clearly bushels of money to be made. Sloan had by now fully
    cottoned to an essential fact about his company's new lead additive

    As the management expert P.F. Drucker described it many years later,
    "GM, in effect, made money on almost every gallon of gasoline sold, by

    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."

                              DEATH BY LOONY GAS

    Du Pont would supply most of Ethyl's TEL requirements for years to
    come, but, according to a letter written by Alfred Sloan to Irenee du
    Pont in the fall of 1924, in an accommodation to Standard Oil that
    firm had been permitted to maintain a small "semiworks" at its Bayway
    refinery. Later, Du Pont engineers would express serious reservations
    about the safety of Standard's facility. An internal 1936 Du Pont
    history would recount that the company was "greatly shocked at the
    manifest danger of the equipment and methods [and] at the inadequate
    safety precautions" at the Standard facility, but their suggestions
    were "waved aside." Unfortunate it was.

    On October 26, 1924, the first of five workers who would die in quick
    succession at Standard Oil's Bayway TEL works perished, after
    wrenching fits of violent insanity; thirty-five other workers would
    experience tremors, hallucinations, severe palsies and other serious
    neurological symptoms of organic lead poisoning. In total, more than
    80 percent of the Bayway staff would die or suffer severe poisoning.
    News of these deaths was the first that many Americans heard of leaded
    gasoline--although it would take a few days, as the New York City
    papers and wire services rushed to cover a mysterious industrial
    disaster that Standard stonewalled and GM declined to delve into.

    Confusion and panic marked the headlines, with reporters forced to
    travel to New Jersey to track a story they'd probably have noted in a
    lightly rewritten press release if Standard had appeared more
    forthcoming. On October 30, days after the first Bayway death, the
    press was at last invited to Standard's New York City headquarters for
    an afternoon session of long-overdue, professionally crafted spin
    control. Thomas Midgley had been rushed to 26 Broadway from Dayton and
    would address the corps. But first, Standard's medical consultant, J.
    Gilman Thompson, presented them with a typewritten statement,
    supplying the company's most sculpted telling of recent history yet:

    [TEEs] recently discovered use for greatly promoting the efficiency of
    gasoline engines has led to its manufacture on a commercial scale
    through processes still more or less in a stage of development. This
    has occasioned unforeseen accidents. ... One of these has been the
    sudden escape, of fumes from large retorts, and the inhalation of such
    fumes gives rise to acute symptoms, particularly congestion of the
    brain, producing a condition not unlike delirium tremens. Although
    there is lead in the compound, these acute symptoms are wholly unlike
    those of chronic lead poisoning such as painters often have.

    "There is no obscurity whatever about the effects of the poison and
    characterizing the substance as 'mystery gas' or 'insanity gas' is
    grossly misleading.

    Asked to assess their liability to families of men who said they were
    not warned of the dangers, Standard Oil officials said "the rejection
    of many men as physically unfit to engage in the work of the Bayway
    plant, daily physical examinations, constant admonitions as to wearing
    rubber gloves and using gas masks and not wearing away from the plant
    clothing worn during work hours should have been sufficient indication
    to every man in the plant that he was engaged 'in a man's

    The falsity and cruelty of Standard's position were manifest, the
    ironies rife. First, Standard wasn't in experimental production. It
    was making TEL to sell. Second, its stony silence alone had led to
    stories in the press about a "mystery" gas, because reporters learned
    that TEL had been dubbed "loony gas" from Bayway workers whom they
    interviewed after being brushed off by the company brass. Finally, the
    escapes of gas weren't sudden, as claimed, but ongoing, the poisoning
    cumulative. The doctors at Reconstruction Hospital had told the Herald
    Tribune that violent insanity was "brought on by the gradual
    infiltration of lead in their systems."

    The day's true highlight, however, would be Midgley's presentation.
    The celebrated engineer and Ethyl VP, who had only recently been
    forced to leave work to recover from lead poisoning, proposed to
    demonstrate that TEL was not dangerous in small quantities, by rubbing
    some of it on his hands. Midgley was fond of this exhibition and would
    repeat it elsewhere, washing his hands thoroughly in the fluid and
    drying them on his handkerchief. "'I'm not taking any chance
    whatever,' he said. 'Nor would I take any chance doing that every
    day.' "The New York World cited unbelievable dispatches from Detroit
    claiming that Midgley "frequently bathed" in TEL to prove its safety
    to skeptics within the industry.

                                 EHTYL ADRIFT

    The response of local governments and public health officials to the
    Bayway disaster was swirl and stem. The day of Midgley's peculiar
    demonstration, the New York City Board of Health banned the sale of
    TEL-enhanced gasoline, saying that "such mixtures of gasoline,
    containing lead or other deleterious substances, may be liable to
    prove detrimental and dangerous to the health and lives of the
    community, particularly when released as exhaust from motor vehicles."
    Within a matter of days Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the State of New
    Jersey would ban gasoline containing the lead additive. Ethyl would
    continue to be sold in the Midwest, but elsewhere on the East Coast
    its use was unofficially discouraged by authorities.

    In early November 1924, after the fifth Bayway worker died, the Bureau
    of Mines study on TEL was released (remember that GM and then Ethyl
    had reserved for themselves the right to approve the timing of its
    release). Not surprisingly, the bureau's report, based on limited
    animal testing it had conducted, gave the substance a clean bill of
    health. The New York Times, which had decided as editorial policy to
    support the use of TEL, served up just the sort of front-page headline
    Ethyl hoped for: "No Peril to Public Seen in Ethyl Gas/Bureau of Mines
    Reports after Long Experiments with Motor Exhausts/More Deaths

    Yandell Henderson of Yale and others assailed the Bureau of Mines
    study as a hopelessly shoddy investigation financed by an interested
    party, Ethyl, and bemoaned Washington's anti-regulatory climate. The
    bureau had "investigated the danger to the public of acute lead
    poisoning," he noted derisively,

    and had failed even to take into account the possibility that the
    atmosphere might be polluted to such an extent along automobile
    thoroughfares that those who worked or lived along such streets would
    gradually absorb lead in sufficient quantities to poison them in the
    course of months. ...

    Perhaps if leaded gasoline kills enough people soon enough to impress
    the public, we may get from Congress a much-needed law and
    appropriation for the control of harmful substances other than foods.
    But it seems more likely that the conditions will grow worse so
    gradually and the development of lead poisoning will come on so
    insidiously (for this is the nature of the disease) that leaded
    gasoline will be in nearly universal use and large numbers of cars
    will have been sold that can run only on that fuel before the public
    and the Government awaken to the situation. ...

    This is probably the greatest single question in the field of public
    health that has ever faced the American public. It is the question
    whether scientific experts are to be consulted, and the action of
    Government guided by their advice, or whether, on the contrary,
    commercial interests are to be allowed to subordinate every other
    consideration to that of profit.

    Echoing the fears of PHS lab director William Clark more than two
    years earlier, Henderson had clearly isolated the greatest threat of
    leaded gasoline--not the severe cases of industrial poisoning that had
    grabbed the headlines but the slow, unrelenting low-level exposure
    that was sure to occur as the use of leaded gasoline spread. As we
    shall see, the industry would use this dichotomy--accidental deaths at
    the plant versus insidious poisoning--to its advantage. The former
    risk could be acknowledged because it could be prevented, while the
    latter was doubted, denied and endlessly debated.

    In years to come, the federal government would do much to help the
    lead interests actively across a variety of fields, but the greatest
    assistance offered was an act of omission: a signal failure to arrange
    for independent examination of the effects of automotive lead
    emissions on the public health. By 1924 the government's allegiance
    and probity were already in question. As C.W. Deppe, owner of the
    Lilliputian Deppe Motors, put it in a letter to the Secretary of the
    Interior, Hubert Work: "May I be pardoned if I ask you frankly now,
    does the Bureau of Mines exist for the benefit of Ford and the G.M.
    Corporation and the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, and other oil
    companies parties to the distribution of the Ethyl Lead Dopes, or is
    the Bureau supposed to be for the public benefit and in protection of
    life and health?"

                          ENTER THE SURGEON GENERAL

    Three months after the Bayway disaster, a grand jury acquitted
    Standard Oil of criminal responsibility for the tragedy despite the
    fact that, as the New York Times stated in summarizing the grand
    jury's findings: "The report found that the deaths were directly due
    to poisoning... [and] recommended that before it resumes operations
    the company try to perfect some machinery by which ethyl gas can be
    manufactured without endangering life."

    This was good news for Ethyl's backers, but strangely at variance with
    the views of Standard's own partners. As Du Pont's internal history of
    1936 concluded: "Notwithstanding... foreknowledge at the peril, the
    precautions taken in the small manufacturing operation at Bayway were
    grossly inadequate." And GM took a dim view of the Standard operation
    as well. Ferris Hurd, a GM attorney testifying in the government's
    1953 antitrust suit against Du Pont, summarized events:

    [Standard] put up a plant that lasted two months and killed five
    people and practically wiped out the rest of the plant. The disaster
    was so bad that the state of New Jersey entered the picture and issued
    an order that Standard could never go back into the manufacture of
    [tetraethyl lead] without [he permission of the state of New Jersey.
    In fact, the furor over it was so great that the newspapers took it
    up, and they misrepresented it, and instead of realizing that the
    danger was in the manufacture, they got to thinking that the danger
    was exposure of the public in the use of it, and the criticism of its
    use was so great that it was banned in many cities and they had to
    close down the manufacture and sale of Ethyl.

    Of course, there was a danger to the public in the use of Ethyl, but
    the public wouldn't know it for decades, thanks in large part to the
    institutional inability and temperamental disinclination of the
    federal government at this time to do anything more than smile upon
    new technologies and corporate incursions into new and lucrative
    markets. The wave of publicity surrounding the Bayway disaster had
    left Ethyl on the defensive, however. The company knew it would be up
    to government to set matters right.

                                A GIFT OF GOD?

    Today business school students carefully analyze the corporate
    response to the scare caused, by a small batch of tainted Tylenol and
    widely hail it as a work of genius. Yet it was nothing compared with
    Ethyl's road back from disaster, skillfully negotiated with a product
    that was a deadly poison from the get-go. Ethyl, to use the modern
    argot, had an aggressive plan and made it stick. You might say it was
    one of the most brilliant exercises in co-branded damage control ever.

    For on Christmas Eve, 1924, Charles Kettering, Frank Howard of
    Standard and Du Pont chief engineer W.F. Harrington paid a private
    visit to Surgeon General Hugh Cumming to request that the Public
    Health Service hold public heatings on TEL. Cumming readily agreed. As
    Du Pont's private history of 1936 would note, "In the prevailing state
    of strong prejudice and excited fears, the new industry was fortunate
    in having the question of the health risk in the use of tetraethyl
    lead actively taken up...by the US Public Health Service."

    On May 4, 1925, in an act exquisitely timed and brilliantly crafted to
    the right tone of seriousness for the proceedings, Ethyl publicly
    withdrew its product from the market. On May 20 eighty-seven
    participants convened in the Butler Building at Third and B Streets,
    in Washington, DC, along with a dozen reporters, for the Surgeon
    General's conference. Conspicuously absent was Treasury Secretary
    Andrew Mellon, whose agency was charged with oversight of the PHS.
    Nowhere was it reportedthat Mellon family interests controlled Gulf
    Oil, which had recently acquired an exclusive Ethyl distributorship.

    At the hearing, Standard's Frank Howard (soon to be an Ethyl director)
    uttered the memorable pronouncement that TEL was "a gift of God" that
    conscience and the march of human progress compelled GM to exploit.

    Our problem is not that simple. We cannot quite act on a remote
    probability. We are engaged in the General Motors Corporation in the
    manufacture of automobiles, and in the Standard Oil Company in the
    manufacture and refining of oil. On these things our present
    industrial civilization is supposed to depend. I might refer to the
    comment made at the end of the war--that the Allies floated to victory
    on a sea of oil--which is probably true. ...

    Now as a result of some 10 years' [sic] research on the part of The
    General Motors Corporation and 5 years' research by the Standard Oil
    Co., or a little bit more, we have this apparent gift of God--of 3
    cubic centimeters of tetraethyl lead--which will permit that gallon of
    gasoline...to go perhaps 50 percent further...

    What is our duty under the circumstances? Should we throw this thing
    aside? Should we say, 'No, we will not use it,' in spite of the
    efforts of the government and the General Motors Corporation and the
    Standard Oil Co. toward developing this very thing, which is a certain
    means of saving petroleum? Because some animals die and some do not
    die in some experiments, shall we give this thing up entirely?

    Frankly, it: is a problem that we do not know how to meet. We cannot
    justify ourselves in our consciences if we abandon the thing. I think
    it would be an unheard-of blunder if we should abandon a thing of this
    kind merely because of our fears. Possibilities cannot be allowed to
    influence us to such an extent as that in this matter.

    (Many years later, Howard would be forced to relinquish his Standard
    post by the Federal Trade Commission for collaborating with Nazi
    Germany, but he would retain his seat at Ethyl.)

    Ethyl sales manager A.S. Maxwell got even more carried away, telling a
    reporter that engines would run so efficiently with leaded gas that GM
    was developing an engine that "will triple the best mileage a gallon
    of gasoline will give today." Actually, while the high compression
    Ethyl permitted--like ethanol or any octane booster--might have
    offered fuel-economy benefits, average fuel economy in the United
    States fell steadily from 1925, the year of Ethyl's introduction,
    through the seventies, when cars shrank and unleaded fuel became the
    standard, In 1974 GM's corporate average fuel economy had fallen to a
    near-comical 12.2 miles per gallon. By 1987, after unleaded became
    predominant and catalytic converters a standard, the
    sales/registered-fleet average for cars sold in the United States had
    climbed to 27.3 miles per gallon. Yet TEL defenders to this day cite
    conservation as its key benefit.

                           THE CONFERENCE ADJOURNS

    America's automotive population was multiplying exponentially, yet the
    Surgeon General's conference spent six hours and forty-five minutes
    deliberating on what Yandell Henderson had prophetically called
    "probably the greatest single question in the field of public health
    that has ever faced the American public" and reached no conclusion.
    Instead. it voted unanimously on a motion by Dr. Matthias Nicoll, New
    York State Commissioner of Health, to place the question of tetraethyl
    lead in the hands of Cumming and a seven-member committee of experts
    to be appointed by him, with orders to report back by January 1, 1926.
    And it commended Ethyl for withdrawing its product while the question
    of its effect on the public health was still unsettled.

    Awkwardly for Ethyl, soon after the conference ended but months before
    the Surgeon General's newly impaneled committee could complete its
    study, details emerged about eight more TEL-related deaths and more
    than 300 injuries at Du Pont's sinister Deepwater plant. Six square
    miles that lit up the sky at night, Deepwater was one of the country's
    most active ports, yet it was nowhere to be found on nautical maps.
    Often referred to publicly by Du Pont as a dye works, it was rather a
    complex of poison-gas works, producing phosgene and chlorine gases as
    well as the lethal benzol series. Deepwater had no legal
    government--just Du Pont and its private police force. Dismissing the
    deaths, a Du Pont spokesman said at the time, "It is a fact that we
    have a great deal of trouble inducing the men to be cautious. We have
    to protect them against themselves." (You can still see Deepwater
    today at the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike, but it stopped
    producing TEL in the nineties.)

    Happily for the du Ponts and the other lead interests, on January 19,
    1926, the special committee appointed by Surgeon General Cumming found
    "no good grounds" for prohibiting the sale of Ethyl gasoline: "So far
    as the committee could ascertain all the reported cases of fatalities
    and serious injuries in connection with the use of tetraethyl lead
    have occurred either in the process of manufacture of this substance
    or in the procedures of blending and ethylizing."

    The committee reviewed the evidence of studies it had conducted in
    Ohio on 252 workers exposed to lead in their occupations as chauffeurs
    and garage men. While the committee noted "a greater storage of lead
    in the bodies of those exposed to ethyl gasoline" and lead in the dust
    of garages dispensing ethyl, nothing conclusive could be established
    in the short time given to it. So, although the newspapers would miss
    the distinction--the New York Times, for instance, headlined it
    "Report: No Danger in Ethyl Gasoline" the committee had merely
    concluded that TEL could be manufactured without the loss of life. It
    did not give tetraethyl lead a clean bill of health or settle the
    question of its effect on the public health. In fact, it cautioned:

    It remains possible that if the use of leaded gasolines becomes
    widespread, conditions may arise very different from those studied by
    us which would render its use more of a hazard than would appear to be
    the case from this investigation. Longer experience may show that even
    such slight storage of lead...may lead eventually in susceptible
    individuals to recognizable or to chronic degenerative diseases of a
    less obvious character. ...

    In view of such possibilities the committee feels that the
    investigation begun under their direction must not be allowed to lapse
    .... The vast increase in the number of automobiles throughout the
    country makes the study of all such questions a matter of real
    importance from the standpoint of public health, and the committee
    urges strongly that a suitable appropriation be requested from
    Congress for the continuance of these investigations under the
    supervision of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service.

    While proposing that the sale of leaded gasoline should go forward,
    regulated by the Surgeon General, the committee passed a resolution
    calling on the Public Health Service to conduct further studies.
    Separately, the president of the Society of Automotive Engineers
    called for additional investigations concerning lead's possible
    relation to sterility. And the American Chemical Society, which might
    have been supposed a lock-step supporter of Ethyl, proposed around
    this time that increased governmental regulation over chemicals "is a
    subject worthy of further discussion."

    Thus, even the industry's paid scientists were uneasy about the use of
    lead in gasoline. Yet none of these calls for further government
    action were ever acted upon, and it was this failure that gave Ethyl
    its opening. The PHS never conducted the studies, the Surgeon General
    never lobbied Congress to pay for them and, for the next forty years,
    all research on TEL's health impact would be underwritten by GM,
    Standard Oil, Du Pont, Ethyl and lead-industry trade associations.
    With the credulity-stretching statement of an Ethyl spokesman that the
    only purpose of GM and Standard Oil--"two of the largest units in the
    automobile and oil industry"--was "to conserve a vital natural
    resource," the company welcomed the committee's report as total
    vindication. "We plan to resume operations," Ethyl announced without
    delay the day of the report's release. In May 1926, one year after the
    sale of TEL-laced gasoline was suspended, signs appeared in gas
    stations: "Ethyl is back."

                         BUT THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE

    Misrepresenting the Surgeon General's committee report findings and
    glossing over its call for further study, Ethyl medical consultant
    Robert Kehoe recalled in a 1928 article the government's abdication of
    its charge: "As it appeared from [the committee's] 'investigation that
    there was no evidence of immediate danger to the public health, it was
    thought that these necessarily expensive studies should not be
    repeated at present, at public expense, but that they should be
    continued at the expense of the industry most concerned, subject,
    however, to the supervision of the Public Health Service." His own
    study, Kehoe wrote unsurprisingly, failed to "show any evidence for
    the existence of such hazards."

    Others were less sanguine about the committee's report and Kehoe's
    summary of the evidence. Committee member Dr. David Edsall, dean of
    Harvard's School of Public Health, called the report incomplete and
    "half-baked." C.E.A. Winslow of Yale recommended that "the search for
    an investigation of antiknock compounds be continued intensively with
    the object of securing effective agents containing less poisonous
    metals (such as iron, nickel, tin, etc.) or no metals at all." Winslow
    unsuccessfully sought to have the committee mention alternatives to
    TEL in its final report, forwarding this recommendation to the PHS,
    along with correspondence from the Ford Motor Company. One letter to
    Winslow, which is missing from the PHS files in the National Archive
    but present in his Yale University archive, dated August 15, 1925,

    Alcohols for motor fuel

    Further to my letter of June 19th:

    You may probably have observed the production of synthetic alcohol as
    brought by the Badische Anilin and Soda Fabrik [BASF of I.G. Farben],
    now being produced in Germany at the rate of 60,000 gallons per month.
    Such alcohol is reported to be produced for between 10 cents and 20
    cents per gallon and has much promise as a mixture with hydrocarbon
    [gasoline] fuels to eliminate knocking and carbonization

    [signed] Wm. H. Smith, Ford Motor Co.

    Surgeon General Cunning was not interested in alternatives to lead,
    even though proof of their existence ought to have immediately thrown
    the veracity of all Ethyl utterances into question. Speaking in August
    1925, for instance, Thomas Midgley had told a meeting of scientists,
    "So far as science knows at the present time, tetraethyl lead is the
    only material available which can bring about these [antiknock]
    results, which are of vital importance to the continued economic use
    by the general public of all automotive equipment, and unless a grave
    and inescapable hazard rests in the manufacture of tetraethyl lead,
    its abandonment cannot be justified."

    Midgley had conveniently overlooked his earlier, high-profile
    endorsement of ethanol, as would Kettering and the entire US press
    corps. Kettering was also forgetting Synthol, the octane-boosting
    alternative he had publicized just months earlier when it looked like
    Ethyl might be forced to close shop. With the government's de facto
    seal of approval in hand for TEL, Kettering never again mentioned
    Synthol. Summarizing his remarks before the Surgeon General's
    committee, the New York Times reported: "The experience of the company
    does not offer any promise that any such cheap and efficient
    anti-knock can be discovered to replace the lead."

                            UNCLE SAM LENDS A HAND

    Far from heeding his committee's call for the initiation of further
    studies on the effects of widespread use of tetraethyl lead, the
    Surgeon General thrust himself quickly into the role of international
    cheerleader for Ethyl's lead gasoline additive. In 1928 England's
    Daily Mail quoted British scientists voicing fear over the potential
    public health hazard posed by TEL, which was soon to be introduced to
    the British market by the Anglo-American oil company brand Pratt's.
    Ethyl's new president, Earle Webb, apprised Surgeon General Cunning of
    this development and received a warm, familiar response. "Your
    courtesy in keeping us informed of such developments is helpful and I
    am grateful for its continuance," Cunning replied, before contacting
    'the British ministry.

    Soon thereafter, England's Ministry of Health would give TEL a clean
    bill of health, referring to American findings. This would be hard to
    jibe with a soon-to-be-published report in the British Medical Journal
    on "the slow, subtle, insidious saturation of the system by
    infinitesimal doses of lead extending over a long period of time," but
    Cumming wasn't through yet.

    Foreshadowing years of sterling service on behalf of Ethyl, the
    Surgeon General, the nation's highest-ranking medical officer, would
    put pen to paper again in 1928, encouraging New York City sanitary
    officials to lift the city's ban on the use of TEL-laced gasoline.
    "There are no good grounds" for the ban, he implored them. In 1931
    Cumming would further assist Ethyl's overseas marketing efforts.
    Cabling the PHS offices from an international conference in Paris, the
    Surgeon General directed his minions to send the Swiss minister of
    health favorable reports on Ethyl.

    In 1932 the du Pont family would temporarily shift party allegiance
    and support to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidential bid with a
    sizable contribution to his campaign fund. The Democratic
    Administration was swift to return the favor. A year after FDR's
    inauguration, the Surgeon General would busy himself writing letters
    of introduction for Ethyl officials to public health counterparts in
    foreign countries.

    "This will introduce you to Mr. E.W. Webb, President of the Ethyl
    Gasoline Corp." the letters began. Cumming helpfully assured
    recipients that Webb had consulted with the PHS and that the PHS had
    found Ethyl an excellent product and given it a clean bill of health.
    He also fired off missives advancing Ethyl's cause with pesky state
    legislatures and public health authorities in the United States who
    were erecting regulatory hurdles.

    By 1936 Ethyl fluid would be added to 90 percent of gasoline sold in
    America--a resounding commercial success. But even this would not be
    enough. Responding to a complaint lodged by Ethyl that year, the
    Federal Trade Commission issued a restraining order preventing
    competitors from criticizing leaded gasoline in the commercial
    marketplace. Ethyl gasoline, the FTC order read, "is entirely safe to
    the health of motorists and the public...and is not a narcotic in its
    effect, a poisonous dope, or dangerous to the life or health of a
    customer, purchaser, user or the general public." The FTC's action on
    Ethyl's behalf came in the wake of an ad by the makers of unleaded
    Cushing Gasoline, who meekly proposed, "It stands on its own merits
    and needs no dangerous chemicals-hence you can offer it to your
    customers without doubt or fear."

                              ETHYLIZED SCIENCE

    Dr. Robert Kehoe of the University of Cincinnati, Ethyl's chief
    medical consultant, would express the opinion following the
    inconclusive 1926 report of the Surgeon General's committee (of which
    he was a member) that there was no basis for concluding that leaded
    fuels posed any health threat whatsoever. And while it is true that
    tetraethyl lead's opponents could point in 1924 to no exact scientific
    test of leaded gasoline emissions as incontrovertible proof of their
    hazards, there was a large body of evidence, dating back 3,000 years,
    that lead is poison.

    Though the principals must surely have been aware of this historical
    evidence, it will suffice to recap merely a few of the contemporaneous
    scientific descriptions of lead's poisonous effects. In 1910, for
    instance, Alice Hamilton completed a groundbreaking and widely
    reported study of the lead industries for the State of Illinois,
    finding pervasive worker poisoning and conditions markedly worse than
    in European industry. In 1914 Americans Henry Thomas and Kenneth
    Blackfan detailed pediatric lead-poisoning death in the case of a boy
    who ate white-lead paint bitten off a crib railing. By 1921, the year
    of Midgley's discovery of TEL as an octane-boosting gasoline additive,
    the weight of the evidence was such that America's National Lead
    Company, sworn enemy of the antilead movement, was forced to admit
    grudgingly that its product was indeed a poison, in all its many forms
    (e.g., carbonate of lead, lead oxides and sulfate and sulfide of
    lead). The following year, the League of Nations would recommend
    banning white-lead paints for interior use on health grounds, as many
    European countries had already done. Establishing a pattern of
    tolerance for this most dangerous element, the United States declined
    to adopt the league's resolution.

    The bankruptcy of TEL supporters' medical opinion was exposed at the
    time by Yandell Henderson and others. Harvard's Dr. Edsall testified
    at the Surgeon General's conference:

    For 100 years and more observations have been made as to the effect of
    having a noteworthy amount of lead dust around in any occupation. ...
    It is not a question, then, whether there is or is not a hazard....I
    am disposed to believe that the hazard is a noteworthy one. How severe
    I am not prepared to say. The only way in which one can determine how
    serious it is would be through a very large number of extremely
    carefully carried-out observations as to what the effects are upon a
    large number of human beings.

    By 1928, emboldened by a refreshingly compliant government and TEL's
    effective victory before the Surgeon General, National Lead and St.
    Joseph's Lead would form the Lead Industries Association to take back
    the ground ceded with Lead's 1921 admission. "Of late the lead
    industries have been receiving much undesirable publicity," LIA
    reminded its members, as if it had forgotten in the intervening years
    that its product was a deadly poison. For years to come, the LIA, on
    whose board Du Pont and Ethyl officers served, would carefully gather,
    fund, support and disseminate propaganda supporting its pro-lead
    views, fighting all who would stand in its way. This disinformation,
    along with the lack of an adequate regulatory framework and the
    expense and difficulty of scientifically proving lead's insidious
    impact-bought manufacturers of lead paint and lead gasoline more than
    fifty years of unjust deserts.

                                THE KEHOE RULE

    Ethyl president Earle Webb once, listed Robert Kehoe as one of three
    men without whom Ethyl could not have done what it did, and surely
    this must be so. Hired by Kettering in 1924 on behalf of GM to study
    hazards of TEL manufacturing plants, the young toxicologist quickly
    demonstrated the unerring instinct for pleasing one's masters that
    guarantees one employment of a more lasting nature.

    In 1925 he was appointed chief medical consultant of the Ethyl
    Corporation and remained in the post until his retirement in 1958. But
    it was in Kehoe's day job, as the outspoken director of the Kettering
    Laboratory--founded with an initial $130,000 gift from GM, Du Pont and
    Ethyl at the University of Cincinnati, where the lead industry paid
    Kehoe's salary for half a century--that he really rose to the
    challenge of promoting TEL. Against Kehoe's lab and decades of its
    pseudoscience, the general and unfunded concerns of the public health
    community were doomed for close to fifty years.

    As Kehoe told a Senate committee with rare accuracy in 1966. "at
    present, this [Kettering] Laboratory is the only source of new
    information on this subject [occupational and public health standards
    for lead] and its conclusions have a wide influence in this country
    and abroad in shaping the point of view and the activities, with
    respect to this question, of those who are responsible for industrial
    and public hygiene." Working on Ethyl's behalf and as a consultant to
    the lead industry until shortly before his death in 1992, at 99, Kehoe
    put in exceptionally good innings. (His lab would also certify the
    safety of the refrigerant Freon, subject of another environmentally
    insensitive GM patent that would earn hundreds of millions before it
    was outlawed.)

    Summing up the findings of a lifetime, Kehoe told Congress that he and
    his colleagues "had been looking for 30 years for evidence of bad
    effects from leaded gasoline in the general population and had found
    none." The credibility of his research had already been undercut and
    would soon be destroyed. But for many years, Kehoe's findings had been
    vouched for by semi-private organizations, including the American
    Public Health Association and the American Medical Association.
    Although they never undertook to investigate or independently verify
    his findings, their lap-dog approvals served to bulk up the
    scholarship in a field that was sparsely scholared.

    Kehoe's central belief--criticized by medical authorities from Yale,
    Harvard and Columbia at the Surgeon General's original 1925 conference
    and thoroughly discredited today, though still embraced by the
    lead-additive industry--was that lead appeared naturally in the human
    body; that the high blood-lead levels his test subjects exhibited were
    normal and healthy. In fact, independent researchers later realized,
    Kehoe's control patients--the ones who wouldn't be exposed to leaded
    gas in his studies--were invariably already saturated with lead, which
    had the effect of making exposed persons' high lead load appear less
    worrisome. Such later findings confirmed the assertions of Yandell
    Henderson and others who criticized Kehoe's methodology in 1925 before
    the Surgeon General's conference. Harvard's Dr. Edsall had reminded
    the Surgeon General, "In spite of what Dr. Kehoe has just said, I
    think that his work will have to be neglected for the reason that the
    finding of lead in such a large proportion of control people means
    that however carefully these observations were made there was
    something wrong technically."

    Late in his career, Kehoe contended that lead levels in gasoline
    could--and should be raised.

    In recent years, a new generation of academics has singled out Robert
    Kehoe as the father of a rule, or paradigm, of profound importance,
    one that was to govern American industry and its parade of hazardous
    products for much of the twentieth century. By relying on what Jerome
    Nriagu of the University of Michigan has called the cascading
    uncertainty rule ("There is always uncertainty to be found in a world
    of imperfect information"), the lead industry and makers and marketers
    of TEL gasoline additives were able to argue in 1925: "You say it's
    dangerous. We say it's not. Prove us wrong." (Or, as Nriagu prefers,
    "Show me the data.") They still do.

    As a result, Ethyl had its cake and ate it, several times. If the
    company's substance checked out as safe, then it would have been shown
    to have behaved responsibly. If not, it would take an eternity to
    prove, during which time the company could keep challenging test
    results and calling for more data. "Both possible outcomes," the
    historian Alan Loeb has written, "accommodated Ethyl. The general
    public was dealt all the risk and Ethyl and its owners were insulated
    from responsibility. To the extent that there was a health
    consequence, the Kehoe rule placed the burden upon the public."

    In the past fifty years, nuclear power, tobacco, chemical, asbestos,
    coal, pesticide and automobile interests have adopted strategies
    similar to the one developed by Kehoe. Clutching most of the
    technology and all of the research capital in their own hands, they'll
    say "Prove us wrong, and we'll change." But confronted with damning
    evidence, they'll repeatedly challenge the methodology of the studies
    or the bias of researchers. All of which takes time. When these
    defenses fail, the whole notion of extrapolating from test results on
    animals might be questioned. As Professor Herbert Needleman of the
    University of Pittsburgh has observed, because toxins are not tested
    on humans, this effectively means that no agent can ever be
    demonstrated as toxic to industry's satisfaction.

    Today, application of the Kehoe Rule has special meaning, as
    multinational corporations seek to introduce myriad genetically
    engineered crops and products prior to rigorous independent scientific
    testing. Once again, the burden of proof' is being subtly shifted to
    the doubters, with the entire world cast in the role of guinea pig. In
    1925 Haven Emerson, a Columbia professor of public health and former
    New York health commissioner, said of the TEL experience, "Up to the
    present time we have almost invariably got our first inkling of a new
    industrial chemical hazard by some human catastrophe... it seems
    rather pitiable in a country of such wealth in means and knowledge
    that we had to wait for a series of human catastrophes to develop the
    demand for a series of animal experiments."

                           LEAD PAINT VS. LEAD GAS

    Working alongside Kehoe at first was the Lead Industries Association.
    Formed primarily to fight restrictions on the use of lead paint, the
    LIA was also ready to serve as a sort of all-purpose lead-issue
    obfuscator. Though it wouldn't fund much actual research, the LIA
    would underwrite the original studies at Harvard in the twenties that
    isolated a new pseudo-psychological malady named "pica," the so-called
    unnatural impulse of some small children, mostly nonwhite, to stick
    lead paint chips in their mouths.

    Much to LIA's chagrin, Kehoe would break ranks with them on the
    subject of lead paint, judging their product indefensible in light of
    all small children's tendency to put things in their mouths. Coming
    from the lead-happy Kehoe, this was a grim diagnosis indeed. Happily
    for the doctor, in 1958 LIA and the former American Zinc Institute
    founded another industry advocacy group, the International Lead Zinc
    Research Organization, with an eye to promoting global use of the lead
    additive in fuel and protecting makers of cadmium, the toxic zinc
    relation often found in batteries. Kehoe and Ethyl would find a
    happier home at ILZRO, which would fund the occasional scientific
    study. Dr. Paul Mushak, visiting professor of pediatric toxicology at
    Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told The Nation that the industry
    has tended to underwrite research toward the margins of relevant
    issues, so as to avoid discovering something it might not like.

    Kehoe's split with LIA and the lead-paint camp was, oddly, beneficial
    for both parties. Ever since, the lead-paint and lead-gasoline
    interests have been able to point the finger at one another when
    assessing their own responsibility for the global lead-pollution
    problem, buying more time to sell their products and more time to
    distance themselves from potential liability.

                             ETHYL CHANGES HANDS

    By the late thirties Ethyl had sewed up the US market, as noted, and
    was making major inroads in Europe. After World War II, Third World
    markets would begin to be opened. On the surface things looked pretty
    good for the company, which by now had blanketed the earth with its
    "gift of God." As "The Ethyl Story," an insert in the Ethyl
    corporation's annual report for 1963, observed with enthusiasm,
    "today, lead alkyl antiknock compounds are used in more than 98
    percent of all gasoline sold in the United States and in billions of
    gallons more sold in the rest of the world. Leaded gasoline is
    available at 200,000 service stations in this country and thousands of
    others around the globe."

    Strange it was, then, that in 1962 GM and Standard suddenly dumped the
    Ethyl Corporation on the market. Even more surprising to many was the
    buyer, the tiny Albermarle Paper Manufacturing Company of Richmond,
    Virginia, and the structure of the deal: It was the modem world's
    first recorded leveraged buyout. Albemarle, owned by the Gottwald
    family, had acquired Ethyl, eighteen times its size, with $200 million
    of borrowed money, making the front page of the New York Times. "It
    was like a Mom and Pop grocery buying the A&P!" remarked an
    incredulous Monroe Jackson Rathbone, Standard Oil of New Jersey's
    president, after presumably taking a back seat in the negotiations.

    No one who's talking knows why GM wanted out of Ethyl in 1962. Ethyl's
    official historian notes dryly that profits were flat in the late
    fifties. The company's TEL patents had expired in 1947, and this
    allowed Nalco, PPG and Houston Chemical to get into the TEL game on
    the back of Ethyl's yeoman work. But Ethyl was still the 800-pound
    gorilla in the tetraethyl arena; overall, profits were pleasingly
    plump and Ethyl's annual reports were upbeat. A more important factor
    may have been the sense that antitrust was in the air, with the du
    Pont family being ordered by the government during this period to
    divest billions in GM shares. Ethyl's incestuous paternity and its
    unseemly relations with Nazi Germany during World War II (see sidebar)
    were reasons to avoid closer scrutiny by a nosy government. And, just
    perhaps, GM might have known something heavy was coming.

    Ethyl's new owners would, in fact, soon find themselves staring at
    more worrisome smoke signals than a patch of duff profits. In July
    1943 the Los Angeles Times reported the city's first major smog
    episode. In 1950 Dr. Arie Haagen-Smit reported that the interaction of
    hydrocarbons (HC) and oxides of nitrogen (NOX) caused smog in Los
    Angeles. By 1953 automobiles would be identified as the region's
    largest source of hydrocarbons. Though they may or may not have known
    it in 1962, the makers of TEL would soon be staring down the barrel of
    a gun--the anti-air pollution movement.

    American auto makers saw the threat that air pollution posed to their
    business. In the mid-fifties they'd concluded a formal but secret
    agreement among themselves to license pollution-control technologies
    jointly and not publicize discoveries in the area without prior
    approval of all the signatories, a preemptive strike against those who
    would pressure them to install costly emissions controls. The effect
    of their pact would be to stifle the development of these much-needed
    devices and technologies. When their agreement came to the Justice
    Department's attention in 1969, the fallout from the exposure of their
    perfidy and mounting awareness of the nation's out-of-control smog
    problem would guarantee passage of air-pollution laws that would
    eventually put lead out of business in America. By this time, the
    legislative mood had changed as it pertained to the automobile, fueled
    in large measure by the work--and persecution, by GM-of a young lawyer
    and Congressional aide named Ralph Nader, who, after raising serious
    questions about auto safety, had been followed and harassed by GM's
    private detectives.

    Crucially, too, by 1969 the entire Kehoe view of natural human lead
    burdens had been knocked out--with one punch-by Dr. Clair Patterson, a
    California Institute of Technology geochemist. A onetime member of the
    Manhattan Project, Patterson is widely credited with giving us our
    most accurate estimate of the earth's age--4.55 billion years. With
    the publication in 1965 of his seminal work, "Contaminated and Natural
    Lead Environments of Man," in the Archives of Environmental Health,
    the scientific world had its hardest proof ever that high background
    lead levels in industrial lands were man-made and endemic. Noticing
    heavy planetary lead contamination in the process of establishing the
    age of the planet, Patterson detailed how industrial man had raised
    his lead burden 100 times and levels of atmospheric lead 1,000 times.
    Kehoe's rule of error ended in a flash.

    Kehoe held his head high in his remarks to Edmund Muskie's
    Congressional clean air subcommittee in 1966, but Patterson had turned
    him into an academic train wreck. Unlike Kehoe, Patterson utilized
    state-of-the-art methods to avoid subject contamination with
    background lead. Analyzing the 1,600-year-old bones of pre-Columbian
    humans, he showed that the twentieth-century human lead burden was
    seriously elevated. Though Patterson's work was widely hailed by the
    scientific community (it was the reason Kehoe was humored, rather than
    respected, by the Muskie committee), the paper earned the professor a
    visit from representatives of the Ethyl corporation, who, in
    Patterson's words, tried to "buy me out through research support that
    would yield results favorable to their cause."

    Instead of joining forces with Ethyl, Patterson delivered a lecture
    assailing the company's activities and predicting the demise of their
    TEL operation. Following these events, his longstanding contract with
    the Public Health Service was not renewed, nor was a substantial
    contract with the American Petroleum Institute. Members of the board
    of trustees at Cal Tech leaned on the chairman of his department to
    fire him. Others have alleged that Ethyl offered to endow a chair at
    Cal Tech if Patterson was sent packing.

    In January 1969 the four major US auto companies and their trade
    association--along with seven manufacturers of trucks and cabs, listed
    as co-conspirators--were accused by the Justice Department of
    conspiracy to delay development and use of devices to control air
    pollution from cars, based on their secret agreement. Though they
    would settle the government's suit in September by agreeing to
    terminate their compact as well as all joint research, publicity or
    lobbying on emissions issues, Detroit's position vis-a-vis air
    pollution had been severely compromised. Ethyl was on its own now, and
    it was fair and easy game to take the fall.

    On January 14, 1970, GM president Ed Cole announced to a flabbergasted
    audience the company's intention to meet pending clean-air laws with
    catalytic converters beginning in 1974. Attached to automotive exhaust
    systems, these devices trap many harmful emissions. However, the
    catalysts' active element, platinum, is expensive, a real problem when
    it is rendered instantly inoperative (and the car undrivable) by the
    lead in "ethylized" gasoline. Farewell, then, leaded gasoline.

    Ethyl was livid. As an authorized corporate biographer wrote some
    years later, "Here was General Motors, which had fathered the
    additive, calling for its demise! And it struck some people as
    incongruous--not to use a harsher word--for General Motors to sell
    half of what was essentially a lead additive firm for many millions
    and then to advocate annihilation of the lead antiknock business."

    "'Get the lead out' has become a slogan in every household," Lawrence
    Blanchard Jr., an Ethyl exec, complained. "I still stay awake some
    nights trying to figure out how we got into this mess."

                             BIG LEAD FIGHTS BACK

    Tetraethyl lead was no longer GM's concern. Nor was it the concern of
    other auto makers, who followed suit announcing that they too would
    adopt the catalyst to meet ever-tightening federal emissions
    standards. Du Pont and Ethyl, on the other hand--along with a ragtag
    bunch of cheapskate oilmen who hoped to avoid upgrading their
    refineries to produce unleaded gasoline of sufficiently high
    octane--still cared a lot about American sales of TEL. When the EPA
    launched the first of several halfhearted attempts to begin removing
    lead from gasoline, lead's corporate affinity group fought back with a
    ferocity that bespoke major arrogance and even greater desperation. 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."

    Ethyl had argued that "actual harm" must be shown, not just
    "significant risk," before their product could be outlawed, and the
    panel agreed. That Ethyl could make the argument at all was a
    troubling reminder that the executive and legislative branches of the
    United States government had signally failed to heed the Surgeon
    General's committee's original request for funding in 1926 for more
    independent research, leaving the driving, scientifically speaking, to
    Robert Kehoe.

    In 1976 the full United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
    overturned the decision against the EPA, finding that "significant
    risk" was adequate foundation for the agency's action against lead and
    within its authority. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, a longtime
    Ethyl director when he was a Virginia corporate lawyer, didn't need to
    recuse himself, as the Court refused to hear an appeal brought by TEL
    makers Ethyl, Du Pont, Nalco and PPG, as well as the National
    Petroleum Refiners Association and four oil companies. Ethyl's
    excitable Blanchard lashed out, "The whole proceeding against an
    industry that has made invaluable contributions to the American
    economy for more than fifty years is the worst example of fanaticism
    since the New England witch hunts in the Seventeenth Century."

    Fighting on the beaches and fighting on the seas, an impassioned Ethyl
    wasn't going to go down easy, urging a reprieve for leaded fuel at a
    1979 meeting of the Petrochemical Energy Group. Soon after, the
    company's oil industry amigos would sound the alarm for a mysterious
    "octane crisis" on account of an alleged increase in competition for
    aromatics, crude oil components that are mainstays of the plastics and
    synthetics businesses, as well as unleaded gasoline octane boosters.
    To combat the crisis, they requested an EPA slowdown on the gradual
    phaseout of lead. The petrochemical industry--led by Du Pont, Monsanto
    and Dow--would simultaneously launch an intensive lobbying campaign to
    delay the scheduled lead phaseout, charging, in a reminiscent tack,
    that the newly discovered dearth of aromatics "threatens the jobs of
    the 14 million Americans directly dependent and the 29 million
    Americans indirectly dependent on the petrochemical industry for

    The ever-hopeful lead cabal's dreams were cruelly dashed in early
    1982, after word leaked out of Vice President George Bush's Task Force
    on Regulatory Relief that the newly elected Reagan Administration
    planned to relax or eliminate the US lead phaseout. Recognizing its
    cue, Du Pont formally called upon the EPA to rescind all lead
    regulations. EPA Administrator Ann Gorsuch was only too pleased to
    comply, but she unwittingly launched a firestorm of bad publicity in
    advance of an announcement by telling a visiting refiner with a big
    mouth that she would not enforce violations of current lead limits
    because the regulations would soon be repealed. When Gorsuch's remarks
    appeared in the newspapers (and were lampooned in the comic strip
    Doonesbury), Reagan's EPA would, under heavy political pressure,
    strike a compromise that effectively sped up the phaseout. Once again,
    Ethyl had been let down by old friends.

                           THE NEW SCIENCE OF LEAD

    Ethyl and Octel continued to whine, but by 1984 the health benefits of
    America's lead phaseout had become too remarkable to ignore, and it
    was this fact that ultimately ended lead's reign in America. The
    harmful effects of lead at lower and lower concentrations had been
    shown by independent studies in the late seventies and early eighties,
    and by now PHS was at long last settling in with the antilead camp.
    EPA economist Joel Schwartz, assigned by his Reaganaut superiors to
    examine the impact of the lead phaseout on small refiners preparatory
    to phasing lead back in, went rogue and reported back instead on the
    impact of the phaseout's early years on American blood-lead levels,
    which the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta had been
    independently compiling. The CDC's findings were startling,
    contradicting everything leadheads of the Kehoe school held dear.

    Between 1976 and 1980 the EPA would report, the amount of lead
    consumed in gasoline dropped 50 percent. Over the same period,
    blood-lead levels dropped 37 percent. The EPA estimated that the
    public benefits of the phaseout, which included reduced medical costs
    and lower maintenance for cars, had already exceeded costs by $700
    million. Between 1975 and 1984 lead for gasoline consumption dropped
    73 percent, while ambient air lead decreased 71 percent (see graph).

    The Lead Industries Association was so angry with the data the EPA had
    corralled that in June 1984 it sued the CDC, which had impaneled its
    lead experts to prepare an updated statement on childhood lead
    poisoning for the nation's medical and public health community (the
    suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds). Schwartz told The
    Nation that the collection of lead data was hindered by the Reagan
    Administration, which, early in its term, prohibited the CDC from
    requiring lead-screening programs to report results to it, figures
    that it would then publish each quarter in the scientific journal
    Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Reports. Subsequently, the CDC was
    prohibited from even inquiring about lead-screening program results.

    As more impartial studies were funded, however, the common-sense
    objections to leaded gas raised by public health campaigners in the
    twenties only seemed more prescient. Yandell Henderson, Alice
    Hamilton, David Edsall and numerous other eminent public health
    scholars had precisely predicted the problem sixty years earlier,
    before it became a global condition. Sadly, they were ignored.
    Dispersed into the air in automobile exhaust, lead dust would be no
    more healthy than it was when lead smelting was identified as a
    poisonous pastime 3,000 years ago. Moreover, as with many industrial
    toxins, the perceived acceptable level of exposure fell as further
    studies were finally carried out.

    In the fifties and sixties, blood-lead levels of less than 60
    micrograms (a microgram is a millionth of a gram) per deciliter
    (one-tenth of a liter) of blood (mcg/dl) were considered acceptable by
    America's medical establishment, not requiring intervention, because
    overt symptoms of lead poisoning, such as convulsions, do not
    typically occur below this level. Prior to that, dating back to the
    twenties, lead poisoning usually had to be severe enough to cause
    death or severe brain damage to be considered a diagnosed poisoning
    event. A corresponding blood-lead level of 80-100 mcg/dl or possibly
    higher might be imputed. In the intervening years, the acceptable
    level has dropped steadily from 40 mcg/dl to 30 to 25 and now to 10 or

    Though the lead industry advocacy groups cling to the old numbers, the
    CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the EPA and the National
    Academy of Sciences have agreed that the ill-health effects beginning
    at 10 mcg/dl are established fact, "an unprecedented coherence of
    opinion in the field of neurotoxicology." In 1994 a letter to the
    editors of the medical journal Pediatrics, several prominent lead
    research doctors addressing industry naysayers wrote, "If this massive
    database is not persuasive for lead, then no other chemical can be
    considered to have been demonstrated to be toxic."

    Completing a sequence familiar to pollution watchers, a recent review
    of scientific research by the National Research Council has led it to
    conclude, "There is growing evidence that there is no effective
    threshold for some of the adverse effects of lead." Children are
    especially at risk. Summarizing its study of the relevant science, the
    Department of Housing and Urban Development wrote, "There does not yet
    appear to be a discernible threshold for the adverse effects of lead
    on the young."

    In a 90,000-word 1997 review of all scientific evidence on the
    subject, Erik Millstone of the Science and Technology Policy Research
    Unit at Sussex University concluded that children suffer ill effects
    from lead at especially low exposures--much lower than was thought
    even recently--including reduced IQ, behavioral and learning
    difficulties and hyperactivity. Children are 4-5 times more
    susceptible to the effects of lead than adults. According to the CDC
    this is because children's digestive systems absorb more lead than
    adults--40-50 percent of that ingested versus 10-15 percent. In
    addition to breathing it in, children will ingest large quantities of
    airborne lead when it settles on soil, dust, food and playthings,
    which eventually contact their mouths. Based on research linking the
    two, in 1998 the Justice Department began studying the impact of
    childhood lead exposure on juvenile delinquent behavior.

    Perhaps the only encouraging news in any discussion of leaded gasoline
    is how readily blood-lead levels fall when its use is trimmed or
    eliminated. The US phaseout of lead began in 1975 and was largely
    complete by 1986. Based on data collected in more than sixty US cities
    by the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that
    blood-lead levels in Americans aged 1-74 had declined 78 percent
    between 1978 and 1991.

    For children aged 1-5, blood-lead levels decreased 76 percent, from
    15.0 to 3.6 mcg/dl. The percent of children with bloodlead levels
    greater than or equal to 10 micrograms declined from 88 percent to 9
    percent. The British Medical Journal reported three years ago that
    since Britain's lead phaseout began, bloodlead levels there had fallen
    by two-thirds. In New York City, where the war against tetraethyl lead
    can be said to have first begun with its ban in 1925, Dr. Sergio
    Piomelli, a hematologist at Columbia University's Children's Hospital,
    has reported that before the US lead phaseout began, 30,000 out of
    100,000 New York City children tested had elevated lead levels; after
    the phaseout was complete, 1,500 of 100,000 had similarly high levels.
    In 2000, he told The Nation, the affected population is even smaller.

    Still, one of the most telling measures of the extent of human lead
    contamination--careful measurement of lead levels in the bones of our
    preindustrial ancestors--argues against too much backslapping. A 1992
    article in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that
    pre-Columbian inhabitants of North America had average blood-lead
    levels 625 times lower than the current "safe" level of 10 mcg/dl.

                                EASTWARD, HO!

    Foreign custom kept Ethyl in business, and it put Octel on the map. In
    the seventies, with the auto industry embracing catalytic converters
    and talk of a lead phaseout circulating, the US market seemed certain
    to shrink, making foreign profits increasingly important to the lead
    giants. Casting back over 1972 in its annual report for that year,
    Ethyl reminded shareholders, "Continued penetration of expanding world
    markets would lessen any...impact on Ethyl's total antiknock sales."
    The following year, noting growing reservations about the American
    market, it went on to recall: "Sales of antiknock compounds continued
    to increase in all overseas markets in 1973. To promote this growth,
    Ethyl International added antiknock bulk terminals in the Far East,
    Middle East and South America. Construction of other terminals in
    various areas of the world is planned in 1974 and 1975."

    Ethyl further elaborated its foreign strategy in 1974: "Most foreign
    countries have recognized the importance of the role lead antiknocks
    play in conserving crude oil in this period of shortages. ... we
    believe antiknocks will continue to constitute a major product of the
    Company for years to come whether or not there is a domestic reduction
    in use of lead in gasoline."

    By 1979 the company would observe, "It is worth noting that during the
    second half of 1979, for the first time, Ethyl's foreign sales of lead
    antiknock compounds exceeded domestic sales." Ethyl and Octel both
    were additionally fortunate in being able to manipulate their prices
    to keep profit levels high. As Octel reported in a 1998 SEC filing,
    "From 1989 to 1995, the Company was able to substantially offset the
    financial effects of the declining demand for TEL through higher TEL
    pricing. The magnitude of these price increases reflected the cost
    effectiveness of TEL as an octane enhancer as well as the high cost of
    converting refineries to produce higher octane grades of fuel." In
    other words, they had their customers over a barrel.

                              LEAD FOR THE POOR

    The sad, bitter fruit of Ethyl's and Octel's missionary work on behalf
    of leaded gasoline lies in its prevalence in the Third World today.
    Given the current state of knowledge regarding the hazards of lead,
    this constitutes a particularly egregious example of environmental
    racism. While more than 80 percent of the heaviest lead-using
    countries today are low income, 70 percent of low lead users (those
    that have phased out lead or allow only very low levels) are high
    income. While Americans cruise their freeways burning exclusively
    unleaded gasoline, as of 1996, 93 percent of all gasoline sold in
    Africa contained lead, 94 percent in the Middle East, 30 percent in
    Asia and 35 percent in Latin America.

    According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion urbanites in developing
    nations are in danger of lead poisoning, including neurological
    damage, high blood pressure and heart disease from airborne lead, 90
    percent of which is attributable: to leaded gasoline. Excessive
    exposure to lead causes 200,000-500,000 cases of hypertension in the
    Third World, with 400 deaths per year attributable to lead exposure in
    the late eighties. In Mexico City, one of the world's most polluted
    (and populous) cities, 4 million cars pump an estimated 32 tons of
    lead each day into the air. In Jakarta, one and a half tons enters the
    atmosphere every twenty-four hours. A research scientist with the
    Canadian National Water Research Institute performed roadside-dust
    analyses in Nigeria that revealed as much as 6,000 parts per million
    of lead. In the United States, lead dust is considered hazardous to
    children at 600 ppm (see chart).

    In Alexandria, Egypt, where gas is heavily leaded, concentrations of
    TEL and air-lead levels are often double the European Union's
    recommended level, and traffic controllers have been found to suffer
    central nervous system dysfunction. In Cairo more than 800 infants die
    annually because of maternal exposure to lead. Daytime air-lead levels
    in Buenos Aires have been measured at 3.9 grams per cubic meter versus
    the twenty-four-hour EU limit of 1 gram per cubic meter.

    The continued use of TEL is especially troubling in light of the fact
    that the Third World's car population is multiplying rapidly, a
    situation that will only intensify if multinational automobile
    manufacturers have their way. Although the Chinese government has
    recently expressed its intention to remove lead from its fuel, other
    nations that haven't are already seeing vehicular population
    explosions like that predicted for China.

    Prodded by Western lead manufacturers, some countries have even
    allowed the lead content in their gasoline to be increased. Although
    it has since moved toward deleading its gasoline, India, for instance,
    more than doubled the amount of lead permitted in its gasoline (from
    0.22 to 0.56 grams per liter) during the seventies and eighties; in
    Uganda, the number soared from 0.58 to 0.84 grams per liter, higher
    than was ever typical in the West. Never known for their philanthropy,
    refiners in poorer nations are disinclined to upgrade their refineries
    so as to obtain higher octane gasolines without using lead.

    Ironically, in the nineties the Venezuelan state oil company,
    Petroleos de Venezuela, exported unleaded gasoline. But it was
    importing TEL and adding it to all gasoline sold for domestic
    use--this in the country with the greatest number of automobiles per
    capita in Latin America. By way of explanation, it is perhaps not
    unhelpful to know that several high-ranking officials of the state oil
    company held consultancies with companies that sell lead additives to
    the country. Among the consequences of this corrupt arrangement:
    According to a 1991 study 63 percent of newborns studied had
    blood-lead levels in excess of US "safe" levels.

    Environmental standards in Third World countries tend to be lax. Where
    clean-air laws and unleaded gasoline do not exist, there is no impetus
    for automobile manufacturers to install catalytic converters in their
    cars. With the rapid growth in automobile use and the growing size of
    these countries' fleets, coupled with low vehicle-turnover rates (car
    lives of fifteen years are not at all uncommon in low-income
    countries) and minimal maintenance, air pollution becomes a much
    greater hazard. According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds
    of India's pollution is generated today by vehicles, compared with
    only 24 percent in 1971; the WHO estimates that 7,500 deaths in New
    Delhi each year are related to air pollution.

    Finally, because lead rums catalytic converters and fouls modern
    engine-management computers, leaded gasoline prevents motorists in
    these countries from using more efficient, less-polluting modern
    vehicles even if they want to. Where cars equipped with catalysts are
    sold as new or used vehicles, a predominantly leaded fuel supply
    invites motorists to either remove the air-cleansing catalysts or
    destroy them by filling their cars with leaded fuel.

                              IT'S CLEANUP TIME

    The public health benefits and cost savings to societies of removing
    lead from gasoline are so vast that the business-friendly World Bank
    was moved--at a 1996 UN conference in Turkey, where leaded gas still
    accounts for 82 percent of the market--to call for a complete global
    phaseout. The bank calculated that the United States had saved more
    than $10 for every $1 it invested in its conversion to unleaded, by
    reducing health costs, saving on engine maintenance and improving fuel
    efficiency with modern engine technologies. Further claiming that
    no-lead fuel may increase engine life by as much as 150 percent, the
    bank called for an immediate five-year phaseout. (Buttressing the
    World Bank's public-spirited campaign, undoubtedly, is the realization
    that many of the state-owned oil companies currently producing leaded
    gasoline will require private investment-and possibly ownership--to
    finance refinery upgrades to produce high-octane unleaded fuels.)

    Unsurprisingly, the industry, which favors phaseouts of twenty-years'
    duration and more, responded testily:

    "Octel and the World Bank have been discussing the transition from
    leaded to unleaded gasoline for a long time," a spokesman told the
    Chemical Marketing Reporter in 1996. "It isn't really appropriate for
    the World Bank to apply US studies and data to the phaseout of lead in
    Third World countries."

    Ethyl and Octel both have strategies for dealing with Third World
    nations seeking to go unleaded. In separate interviews with The
    Nation, they admitted advising their remaining customers to go slow.
    As Ethyl's vice president of international sales, Bob Yondola,
    explained: "As countries have the infrastructure to support unleaded
    gasoline, have the monies for their people to buy the new cars, etc.,
    etc., it makes sense [to switch to unleaded gas]. But if you've got
    some parts of the world where their infrastructure is still--you know,
    they need to come up with food and water, and sewers... for their
    people. And there are still places in the world like that. Then, I
    mean, getting the lead out of the gasoline, to me, wouldn't make as
    much sense as having sewers."

    Associated Octel's public affairs spokesman Bob Larbey, since retired,
    said his firm will help Third Word refiners clean up their
    contaminated lead operations, for a fee. "But," he said, "we talk to
    developing countries. For example, refiners come to us and say, 'We
    want to get the lead out,' because we're refinery experts, you see,
    and we could advise them on how they could best phase lead out, with
    what strategy. I think if we argue anything at all, we say, 'Well, if
    you're going to go out of lead, fine, let's talk a bit, but there's no
    need, this is the lead in health information, there's no proven
    adverse health affect, and so there's no need for you to do it
    precipitously. You might not want to take twenty years [as in the
    European phaseout] but really, there's no need to rush.' Because if
    you replaced it with other components of petrol then there's a risk
    from anything. ... Petrol itself is a risk without lead."

    The lead industry clutches the alleged dangers of other
    octane-enhancing gasoline additives near to its bosom. While admitting
    the hazard of his company's product, one Octel executive told the New
    York Times that leaded fuel is an "economic and environmental bargain"
    for the Third World because it improves fuel economy, which lowers
    other emissions like benzene, also found in gasoline.

    "Getting rid of one environmental risk won't necessarily improve
    public health if you replace it with greater risks," yet another
    spokesman for Octel's affiliate told the Chemical Marketing Reporter.
    Benzene, the hazard to which lead enthusiasts refer most often, can be
    used by refiners to boost octane cheaply in the absence of lead. But
    it isn't mandatory, and any sensible lead-reduction regulation would
    limit its use. Moreover, while as many as 5,000 Americans died
    annually from lead-related heart disease prior to the lead phaseout,
    only forty-seven people developed cancer from the use of benzene as a
    lead replacement. "The health impacts of aromatics [like benzene] are
    several orders of magnitude less than that of lead," said a World Bank

                         DIVERSIFICATION AND SPINOFF

    Selling lead is an unusually profitable business. As Ethyl's 1995
    report to shareholders blandly observes, lead additive sales accounted
    for 26 percent of gross revenues, but 74 percent of its profit. In
    1995 the New York Times wrote of the profit bonanza Octel's
    then-owner, Great Lakes Chemical, had stumbled upon when, searching
    for sources of bromine for fire retardants, it landed in the TEL

    Far from petering out, demand for leaded gasoline, while shrinking,
    has remained far stronger than anyone predicted, especially in the
    third world. Meanwhile, every other major producer has stopped making
    the additives, known as tetraethyl lead, or TEL. That has left Great
    Lakes with an unexpected flood of profits and 90 percent of a market
    that no one else will enter because of the environmental problems
    associated with lead and the huge capital costs of building a new

    Octel's old plant, along the Manchester Ship Canal outside Liverpool,
    bankrolled immense growth for Great Lakes, allowing it to double in
    size within five years (to $5 billion in annual revenue) following its
    acquisition of Octel, all the while maintaining a hefty 15 percent
    annual operating profit. As recently as 1977 Great Lakes had only $50
    million in operating revenue.

    Years of lead profits have funded major diversification efforts for
    Ethyl and its owners, led by the Gottwald family of Richmond.

    The company's annual report for 1996 revealed "a long-running
    strategy: namely, using Ethyl's significant cash flow from lead
    antiknocks to build a self-supporting major business and earnings
    stream in the petroleum additives industry."

    By 1983 Ethyl had become "the world's largest producer of
    organo-metallic chemicals." It would expand its production for the
    petroleum industry (including the purchase of the petroleum additives
    divisions of Amoco and Texaco), as well as acquire interests in other
    specialty chemicals, plastics and aluminum products, oil, gas and
    coal. Ethyl would also invest billions in pharmaceuticals, biotech
    research, semiconductors and life insurance. At great expense, it
    would develop a serene corporate campus of seventy acres along the
    banks of the James River in Richmond.

    As the science against TEL mounted and government regulation
    stiffened, Ethyl began a series of restincturings that today find its
    TEL business standing suspiciously alone. In 1989 Ethyl spun off
    Tredegar Industries, a group it created to hold its aluminum, plastics
    and energy businesses. For every Ethyl share they held, investors
    would receive prorated shares in the new company. Voila! Limited
    liability. Later Ethyl would spin off its billion-dollar insurance
    company, First Colony Life. In 1994 Ethyl would split up its chemical
    and petroleum additives division and create a wholly owned subsidiary,
    Albemarle Corporation, named after the 100-year-old paper company that
    bought Ethyl (which retained its name) in 1962. One of the main
    enterprises of Albemarle, ironically, is supplying Ethyl with MMT
    under a long-term agreement. MMT is another gasoline additive (made of
    manganese and barely sold in the United States) with suspected health
    consequences. In 1994 Ethyl and its Albemarle offspring did a rousing
    $48 million of business together. Oddly, for a company that claims to
    be proud of its product (so proud that under an obscure provision of
    NAFTA it sued the Canadian government for outlawing MMT) Ethyl
    declined to tell Automobile Magazine in 1999 in which countries it
    sold MMT to refiners, presumably because it fears awakening consumers
    to the presence of its manganese additive.

    Because it was itself spun off to a management team from Great Lakes
    Chemical, Octel remains highly concentrated in lead, with TEL
    representing 85 percent of its business in 1996. Although CEO Dennis
    Kerrison has announced his intention to develop non-TEL businesses
    into core businesses by 2005, "even the most extreme estimates allow
    for the continued use of leaded petrol in some parts of the world
    until at least the year 2010." Off the record, company officials admit
    they could be selling lead in 2020 and beyond.

    Until then, Octel, "through the specialist facilities of Octel
    Environmental, provides a range of decontamination, destruction,
    removal and recycling services to refineries throughout the world to
    help to reduce the environmental impact of toxic lead residues." Under
    its Product Stewardship Programme--"a public service," Octel calls
    it--fifty tons of lead alkyl sludge were removed from New Zealand
    refineries s part of a cleanup beginning in 1996. Octel had supplied
    the refineries with 4,000 tons of TEL annually for years. So, in a
    crowning irony, poisoned motorists in New Zealand and around the world
    will, through higher gasoline prices, pay Octel (and Ethyl) to clean
    up the mess the TEL barons and their refinery customers made.

                        WILL THE SUN EVER SET ON LEAD?

    Associated Octel's fiftieth-anniversary catalogue affectionately
    quotes a letter the company received from a former technical services
    manager in 1982, when Britain's antilead campaign kicked off in
    earnest: "Many funerals have been arranged for lead in petrol--1926,
    1943, 1954, 1970, etc.--as I can recall. The grave has been dug, the
    service arranged, the coffin prepared, the parson and mourners
    instructed, but the body just would not lie down in the coffin."

    Though the catalogue was published in 1988, the sentimental hope that
    it's not over yet is secretly still held by Octel and Ethyl, and all
    the others who continue to push leaded gasoline. But the body of
    tetraethyl lead must be made to lie down in its coffin. The five-year
    phaseout of leaded gasoline favored by the World Bank in 1996 makes
    inarguable moral and business sense--two things that don't always go
    together, especially at the World Bank. The only ones arguing
    otherwise are Octel, Ethyl and the small coterie of self-interested
    researchers and narrowly trained toxicological technicians who've
    lived on the industry's tab for the last thirty years, since Robert
    Kehoe stepped down.

    Many European nations have banned leaded gas for 2000. Progress has
    been made. But somehow Ethyl and Octel will be splitting Third World
    profits for years to come. If the science was ever in doubt (and it
    really wasn't), the facts are now incontrovertible. Leaded gasoline is
    dangerous. When safer alternatives are available, as they always have
    been, leaded gasoline's benefits are nil. It is not good for cars, and
    it prevents the use of modern emissions reduction equipment, like
    catalytic converters, which, owing to the greenhouse effect, the world
    needs more desperately now than even TEL's most crass (and main)
    historic selling point is no longer valid: It isn't even cheap.

    There is at least one simple lesson to be drawn from the tetraethyl
    lead story. Industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself, as Clair
    Patterson--the man who dated the earth and single-handedly deflated
    ethylized science--once remarked. "It is not just a mistake for public
    health agencies to cooperate and collaborate with industries in
    investigating and deciding whether public health is endangered--it is
    a direct abrogation and violation of the duties and responsibilities
    of those public health organizations."

    As for General Motors, Du Pont, Standard Oil, Ethyl, Associated Octel
    and rest of the lead cabal, it's conceivable they'll be hauled into
    court sooner or later, which is one reason these companies all take
    such an active interest in so-called tort reform legislation. You
    would too, if you had been a key actor in one of the most tortious
    episodes of twentieth-century industrial history. We can hope that
    Congress doesn't give them a free pass, but no matter what, it will be
    the citizenry that will pay any financial bills coming due. They've
    already paid with their health. Many of the effects of childhood lead
    exposure are irreversible.

    These businesses should be shut down. And to make sure they don't
    forget their heinous experience, all these companies ought to open
    their archives to independent review, to assist in assembling the
    information that will help lay TEL down to eternal rest, to help show
    the world what went wrong when common sense was put on hold in the
    name of profit. In the face of all that is known today, the
    leaderships of foreign countries who continue to poison their people
    with TEL should be harangued to phase out lead from their gasoline--on
    a daily basis, by the United Nations as well as by governments,
    agencies and medical officials from around the world. Until then, the
    merchants of tetraethyl lead-or any other unnecessary additive known
    to be dangerous--are no better than criminals. They should be dealt
    with accordingly. Maybe in this new century they will be.

    PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Charles Kettering Shows GM President Alfred
    Sloan his invention--the self-starting motor.

    PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Pierre Du Pont

    PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Thomas Midgley Jr., who discovered tetraethyl
    lead, Freon and CFCs.

    PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Dr. Robert Kehoe, chief scientific apologist
    for the leaded gasoline industry.

    PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Station sign, c. 1924

    GRAPH: average blood-lead levels of sampled populations in selected
    cities, late 1980s-early 1990s.

               8,500 years of lead 79 years of leaded gasoline


    6500 BC. Lead discovered in Turkey.

    3000 BC. First significant production of lead.

    500 BC-300 AD. Roman lead smelting produces dangerous emissions.

    100 BC. Greek physicians give clinical description of lead poisoning.


    1854. Tetraethyl lead (TEL) discovered by German chemist.

    1887. US medical authorities diagnose childhood lead poisoning.


    1904. Child lead poisoning linked to lead-based paints.

    1909. France, Belgium and Austria ban white-lead interior paint.


    1914. Pediatric lead-point poisoning death from eating crib paint is

    1916. GM and United Motors buy Charles Kettering's DELCO, which
    experiments with preventing engine knock.

    1918. Scientific American reports alcohol-gasoline blend can be used
    as motor fuel.

    1918. Thomas Midgley patents benzene/gasoline blend as antiknock.

    1919. Du Pont interests buy additional shares of GM.

    1919. London General Omnibus Co. experiments prove ethanol is

    1919. Kettering gives Midgley two weeks to find antiknock,


    1920. US Naval Committee approves alcohol-gasoline blend

    1920. Midgley patents alcohol and cracked (olefin) gasoline blend.

    1920. Du Pont now owns more than 35 percent of GM.

    1921. National Lead Company admits lead is a poison.

    1921. Midgley demonstrates car powered by 30 percent alcohol-gasoline

    1921. Midgley discovers that tetraethyl lead (TEL) curbs engine knock

    1922. League of Nations bans white-lead interior paint; US declines to

    1922. GM contracts Du Pont to supply TEL.

    1922. Public Health Service (PHS) warns of dangers of lead production,
    leaded fuel.

    1922. Scientists express concern to Midgley over TEL in gas.

    1923. Midgley repairs to Miami to recover from lead poisoning.

    1923. Leaded gasoline goes on sale in selected markets.

    1923. GM Chemical Corporation established to produce TEL.

    1923. First Du Pont TEL plant opens at Deepwater, NJ.

    1923. First TEL-poisoning deaths occur at Deepwater plant.

    1923. GM contracts toothless Bureau of Mines to test TEL.

    1924. Two GM employees die of lead poisoning at TEL plant. Dr. Robert
    Kehoe hired to study hazards at plant. Begins career as lead's lead

    1924. GM forms medical committee to examine lead threat.

    1924. Standard Oil begins production of TEL at Bayway plant.

    1924. GM and Standard Oil of NJ form Ethyl Gasoline Corp.

    1924. GM medical committee delivers negative and highly cautionary
    report on TEL. Irenee du Pont "not disturbed."

    1924. Five workers die of lead poisoning at Bayway plant.

    1924. NY Board of Health bans sales of TEL-enhanced gasoline.

    1924. Bureau of Mines study gives TEL clean bill of health.

    1924. Standard Oil suspends sale of leaded gasoline in NJ.

    1924. Officials of GM, Standard, Du Pont request Surgeon General hold
    public hearings.

    1925. Forgetting ethanol, Midgley proclaims TEL is only viable

    1925. Yale's Yandell Henderson warns of danger from breathing lead
    dust in auto emissions.

    1925. Du Pont opens second TEL plant.

    1925. Ethyl withdraws its gasoline from market until Surgeon General's

    1925. SG's conference calls for expert committee to study TEL.

    1926. Committee calls for regulating sales of Ethyl and for further
    study by PHS, funded by Congress (studies never funded).

    1926. Signs in gas stations: "Ethyl is back."

    1926. Du Pont reopens Deepwater TEL plant.

    1926. GM President Sloan expresses concern about valve corrosion with

    1927. GM quells rebellion of dealers against use of lead fuel.

    1928. Lead Industries Association formed to combat "undesirable

    1928. Surgeon General tells NYC there are "no good grounds" to ban


    1930. Ethyl Export is founded in England to sell leaded gas overseas.

    1932. British Medical Journal cites "slow, subtle insidious saturation
    of the system by infinitesimal doses of lead extending over long
    period of time."

    1933. USDA, naval researchers find Ethyl and 20 percent ethanol blend
    equal in performance.

    1934. Ethyl and I.G. Farben form Ethyl GmbH to make leaded airplane

    1936. 90 percent of gasoline sold in US contains Ethyl.

    1938. Ethyl Export becomes Associated Ethyl Company.


    1943. Report concludes eating lead paint chips causes physical and
    neurological disorders, behavior, learning and intelligence problems
    in children.

    1948. US files antitrust suit against Du Pont to break up "largest
    single concentration of power in the United States." Main target is Du
    Pont's $560 million investment in GM.


    1950. Dr Aria Haagen-Smit identifies causes of smog in LA as
    interaction of hydrocarbons (cars largest source) and oxides of

    1952. Justice Dept antitrust suit against Du Pont focuses on
    anticompetitve association between it, GM, Standard Oil and Ethyl.

    1954. Octel begins TEL production in England.

    Mid-1950s. Auto makers pact stifles development of emissions-control

    1959. PHS approves Ethyl request to increase lead in gasoline. PHS
    regrets that SG committee's 1926 call for studies was not followed up.


    1961. Ethyl and Associated Octal compete for overseas trade.

    1962. Ethyl sold to Albemarle Paper Co. in $200 million leveraged
    buyout partly financed by sellers, GM and Standard Oil.

    1965. Clair Patterson's study "Contaminated and Natural Lead
    Environments of Man" offers first hard proof that high lead levels in
    industrial nations are man-made and endemic.

    1966. Senate Public Works Committee holds first hearings on air

    1969. Auto makers settle suit by Justice Department for conspiracy to
    delay the development of pollution-control devices.


    1970. Passage of Clean Air Act,

    1970. To avert threatened legislation to restrict use of
    internal-combustion engine, GM agrees to add catalytic converters to
    meet Clean Air law. Active element of converters--platinum--is
    contaminated by leaded gas, presaging its demise.

    1971. Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act passed.

    1972. EPA gives notice of proposed phaseout of lead in gasoline. In
    first use of Freedom of Information Act, Ethyl sues EPA

    1973. EPA promulgates lead phaseout in gasoline but delays setting
    standards. When standards are set, EPA sued by Ethyl.

    1976. EPA standards upheld by US Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court
    refuses to hear appeal.

    1978. Energy Tax Act creates ethanol tax incentive, expanding use of
    ethanol in US.


    1980. National Academy of Sciences calls leaded gasoline greatest
    source of atmospheric lead pollution.

    1980. National Security Act of 1980 mandates all gasoline be blended
    with a minimum of 10 percent grain alcohol--"gasohol." Subsequently
    scuttled by Reagan Administration.

    1980. Gasohol Competition Act passed by Congress to stop oil
    companies' discrimination against sales of gasohol at their pumps.

    1980. Ethyl reports it has expanded its overseas business tenfold
    between 1964 and 1981; profits help fund diversification.

    1981. Vice President George Bush's Task Force on Regulatory Relief
    proposes to relax or eliminate US leaded gas phaseout.

    1982. Reagan Administration reverses opposition to lead phaseout.

    1983. Between 1976 and 1980, EPA reports, amount of lead consumed in
    gasoline dropped 50 percent. Blood-lead levels dropped 37 percent
    Benefits of phaseout exceed costs by $700 million.

    1986. Primary phaseout of leaded gas in US completed.


    1992. Rio environmental summit calls for worldwide lead phaseout.

    1994. Study shows that US blood-lead levels declined by 78 percent
    from 1978 to 1991,

    1994. American Academy of Pediatrics study shows direct relationship
    between lead exposure and IQ deficits in children.

    1996. World Bank calls for world phaseout of leaded gasoline.


    2000. European Union bans leaded gasoline.

                                Shoddy Science

    There were two basic scientific tasks for Robert Kehoe and later
    grantees favored by the lead additive makers: First, argue that
    human-body lead burdens in industrialized, ethylized America, measured
    by the amount of lead in blood or urine, are not seriously elevated
    but rather "natural" or "normal." Second, contend that even if
    Americans' body-lead burdens were to increase from leaded gasoline
    exposure, such exposures are harmless to human health. The first task
    involved testing lead levels in people around the world, especially in
    those regions considered remote or preindustrial; the second involved
    showing that people were not dying from leaded gasoline exhaust, nor
    were they showing any toxic effects traceable to leaded gasoline. Dr.
    Paul Mushak, director of a Durham, North Carolina, metal toxicology
    practice and a visiting professor of pediatric toxicology at the
    Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told The Nation, "As recently as
    the late sixties, Du Pont-supported researchers published results
    claiming to show that remote, nonindustrial peoples had the same
    blood-lead levels as urban residents in US cities. In reality, there
    were vast differences in lead exposures and the associated blood-lead
    content, differences conclusively shown in later, well-done studies of
    remote peoples. This large difference is also shown, in the way of a
    before-and-after illustration, when one examines current US blood-lead
    figures in this era of phased-out leaded gasoline, values that are but
    a fraction of the 'normal' blood-lead levels found decades ago in the
    heyday of leaded gasoline. The only thing that was 'uniform' or
    'natural' in the Du Pont-sponsored effort was a similar level of
    pervasive lead contamination of blood and urine samples brought to the
    United States regardless of geographical and demographic origin."

    Research by Kehoe triumphantly announced that high bloodlead levels in
    remote rural Mexicans equaled US levels. In the nineties Dr. Herbert
    Needleman, now of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine,
    publicized earlier studies debunking Kehoe's claims; those studies
    showed that Kehoe's Mexican test population was in fact heavily
    exposed to lead from the glazes used in local pottery, in both
    production and daily use. One of the first lead researchers to receive
    independent support from the government, Needleman was also
    instrumental in advancing modem lead-load-testing technique, by
    analyzing teeth and bones in addition to urine, feces and blood. These
    new tests were more accurate and more damning to industry,
    conclusively demonstrating the links between lead exposure and IQ,
    attention and behavioral deficits; the persistence of these into
    adulthood; and lead's association with aggression and delinquency. The
    Ethyl corporation and the leaded gas industry's trade group, the
    International Lead Zinc Research Organization, have persecuted
    Needleman ever since. In the early nineties he successfully fended off
    unfounded attacks on his research and academic integrity by a
    researcher who received ILZRO funding and whose law firm was
    represented on the Ethyl board. The researcher filed charges; against
    him with the NIH. Fancy PR firms (then under contract to the lead
    industry) attempted to vilify Needleman in the press. At one time
    denied private access to his own research papers (an academic guard
    had to accompany him) by the always mineral-friendly University of
    Pittsburgh, Needleman was finally exonerated. His science stands.

                             Ethyl and the Nazis

    Working double time to craft their own heroic mythology, the makers of
    tetraethyl lead take much pride in their contribution to the Allied
    effort in World War II. According to a 1988 Associated Octel history,
    TEL was "'the magic bullet' [that] gave the engines more power
    enabling the aircraft to fly higher and faster. ... TEL was vital to
    power the Hurricane and Spitfire engines that played such an important
    part in winning the Battle of Britain. But for that victory, the
    outcome of the war might have been very different. In its own way,
    Octel has helped shape the fortunes of the post-war world."

    Like so many former Nazi sympathizers these days, Octel forgets a few
    relevant bits about how its family spent the war years and those
    directly preceding it:

    š In 1934, with Hitler elevated to Fuhrer and the Nazi rearmament
    effort proceeding rapidly, Ethyl enters into an agreement with I.G.
    Farben, Hitler's biggest corporate supporter, to form Ethyl GmbH, to
    provide leaded gasoline for airplane fuel. Ethyl's London office and a
    low-level Du Pont official express dismay; they are ignored. Ethyl
    GmbH is formed under German management, but Ethyl Export retains an
    interest and the firm's Ray Bevan, an Englishman (later the head of
    Associated Octel), becomes a director. Ethylized fuel helps German
    planes fly as fast and high as Allied planes. Ethyl GmbH's plant is
    removed by the Russians after the war ends.

    š At hearings before the Senate Munitions Committee in 1934, Irenee du
    Pont, having denounced the investigation as a plot by the Communist
    Third International, is pilloried for cartel agreements that require
    the Du Pont Company to share new technologies with Farben and Hitler,
    and also for helping to sell German munitions abroad, something the
    Versailles Treaty proscribed. During the hearing, Irenee's brother
    Pierre denies that his family controls GM, which, through Ethyl and
    its wholly owned Adam Opel AG subsidiary (a German maker of cars and
    trucks), has extensive Nazi ties of its own. "Have you not held
    considerable private personal interests in General Motors?" one
    senator asks. "No," replies Pierre, "nothing considerable." His memory
    is refreshed by his questioner: In 1929 alone, he sold $33 million of
    GM stock.

    š In 1938 Standard Oil of New Jersey transfers technical know-how for
    TEL manufacture to Nazi Germany's Farben. TEL manufacture is not easy,
    as the Japanese will find out during the war when they try an amateur
    hand at it, killing sixteen workers or more in the process and, at one
    point, poisoning up to 40 percent of the workers they had engaged.
    Under the terms of the deal with Standard, Farben is obligated to
    exchange particulars of synthetic rubber production, but this never
    materializes. The British government later concludes that Standard and
    Farben agreements to block the rubber technology's export to the
    Allies rendered Standard "hostile and dangerous elements of the

    š Du Pont keeps its cartel agreements with the Germans up until the
    eve of US entry into the war; signing its last price-fixing and trade
    pact with I.G. Farben in 1939. However, in 1940, Du Pont's foreign
    relations department tells its executive committee: "The Du Pont
    Company informed I.G. that they intend to use their good offices after
    the war to have the I.G. participation restored."

    š In March 1942 Thurman Arnold, a US assistant attorney general,
    appears before a Senate committee investigating war profiteering and
    testifies that Ethyl Gasoline Corporation, General Motors, Standard
    Oil and I.G. Farben of Germany had an agreement by which the American
    corporations supplied the Nazis with the TEL formula and production
    expertise, without which Hitler could not have fueled his air force or
    gone to war. Committee chairman Harry Truman says, "This is treason."

    š Based on his involvement in the Standard-Farben marriage, Frank
    Howard, the Ethyl director who told the Surgeon General that TEL was
    "a girl of God," is barred in a settlement with the FTC from ever
    serving on the board of an American oil company.

                           Ethyl-Octel Family Tree

    The Ethyl Gasoline Corporation, a joint venture of GM and Standard
    Oil, founded Ethyl Export in England in 1930 to handle foreign
    business. Additional outposts were opened in Italy, France and
    Germany, and in 1938 Ethyl Export became the Associated Ethyl Company.
    The company was formed to control TEL production throughout Britain
    and France, and its primary goal was to expand the use of TEL, which
    it did by the clever expedient of making shareholders out of six
    leading oil companies-BP, Shell, Esso (as Standard Oil of New Jersey
    was known in England), Mobil, Chevron and Texaco--as well as General
    Motors. The Third World market fell in line after World War II.

    In 1961 Europe's Associated Ethyl changed its name to Associated Octel
    Company Limited, reflecting the fact that Ethyl and Octel were now
    competitors for European and Latin American business. In 1962 Ethyl
    was sold by GM and Standard Oil to the Gottwald family of Richmond,
    Virginia, owners of Albemarle Paper, who continue to trade in TEL from
    their headquarters in Richmond. Other US competitors--Du Pont, Nalco
    and PPG-have wound down their TEL businesses in recent years.

    After World War II Octel grew to become one of the world's largest TEL
    suppliers. Today, on the outskirts of Liverpool, England, it operates
    one of only three TEL manufacturing facilities remaining in the
    world--the others are in Germany and Russia. Octel, which supplies
    Ethyl with all of its lead under long-term agreement subject to a
    recent decree settling FTC price-fixing charges, now supplies 80
    percent of the world's TEL.

    In 1989 Octel was sold to Great Lakes Chemical of West Lafayette,
    Indiana, makers of bromine and brominated chemicals, including EDB,
    the chemical scavengers used in ethyl gasoline to clear lead deposits
    from engines. In 1997 Great Lakes Chemicals spun off Octel into a
    separate company, which in 1998 was sold for $430 million to a highly
    leveraged management team led by Octel's managing director (now CEO),
    Dennis Kerrison.

                                WE VISIT OCTEL

    "Do you see that village over there?" Bob Larbey asked, pointing out
    the minicab window. "That's where Louise Woodward grew up. That's
    where she lives." It was quite an admission.

    You see, Larbey was the soon-to-retire manager of external affairs for
    the Associated Octel Company, the world's largest makers of tetraethyl
    lead (TEL), the gasoline antiknock additive outlawed in the West but
    still sold in the Third World. His company's last remaining lead
    factory and Shell Oil's closely adjacent Stanlow Refinery, located in
    Ellesemere Port alongside the Manchester Ship Canal, outside
    Liverpool, are, for better or worse, Louise Woodward's next-door

    Putting aside one's free-floating interest in the lives of the rich
    and famous (Woodward attained notoriety, you will recall, when she was
    charged in 1997 with murdering a Massachusetts infant in her care),
    karbey's revelation interested me for another reason. In the preceding
    months, I had been reading up on lead and had learned that a vein of
    scientific research five miles wide and fifty-six years old had linked
    childhood lead exposure to a variety of learning difficulties and
    personality disorders, among them violent, irrational and aggressive

    "Wow," I said to Larbey and Richard Bremner, a correspondent for
    England's Car magazine. Like me, Bremner is a starry-eyed old-car
    buff. We're all for safety and low emissions, but we love cars,
    especially older ones. Following industry pronouncements and reading
    car magazines religiously, we'd been led to believe--I in America in
    the eighties, when lead was removed from gasoline, and he only
    recently, as Britain contemplated its phaseout--that the removal of
    lead from fuel would damage the engines of our old cars. Frankly, I'd
    begun wondering about the honesty of the additive makers and the oil
    industry. Having run more than my fair share of venerable machinery in
    the fourteen-year period since the US ban went into effect, I hadn't
    had a single recessed valve seat--what I'd been led to fear--or any
    other engine problem to report.

    One is tempted to describe the Octel plant, which rends the gray and
    rainy Mersev sky in a most unharmonious fashion, as Victorian, except
    that it was built in 1948. After installing ourselves in jumpsuits and
    rubber boots, which lent special moment to the occasion, we were given
    two sets of gloves, two pairs of goggles and brand-new gas masks,
    which lent an air of terror. I couldn't help recalling the sickening
    deaths and illnesses of hundreds of TEL workers in the twenties in New
    Jersey, in plants run by Standard Oil and Du Pont. This was bad stuff.
    Gripped by violent bursts of insanity, the afflicted would imagine
    they were being persecuted by butterflies and other winged insects
    before expiring, their bodies having turned black and blue.

    As we toured the plant with Larbey and an Octel worker, Bob Pedley, my
    thoughts were instantly fogged by the significance of this place, the
    largest lead additive factory in the world and the last in the West.
    Octel continues to supply TEL to large parts of the Third World from
    this site, by tanker and seaborne container, as if the world medical
    establishment, the UN, the EU, the EPA and the World Bank (I could go
    on) hadn't come out strongly against the stuff. So TEL manufacturing
    experts will forgive me now if I can no longer remember the exact
    sequence of what we saw, or even what we were seeing. But I will never
    forget our first sight of huge caldrons of sodium being electrically
    heated to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, to remove chlorine. ("If the
    chlorine escapes, put your gas mask on and start running," someone had
    told me. Or had it simply been "start running"? I hoped not to find
    out.) The sodium was then blended, I think, with molten lead made from
    huge ingots, and this sodium/lead mixture was mixed with ethyl
    chloride to make TEL. Added at this point would be the ethylene
    dibromide (EDB), the "scavenger" material that causes the lead to exit
    the car's exhaust. EDB, I'd learned earlier, is another
    well-documented carcinogen. High up one of the exterior walls of the
    tower where the sodium/lead mixture is mixed with ethyl chloride were
    enormous tanks. In the event of a chemical overreaction--"It gets away
    from us sometimes," Larbey said with a chuckle--so-called burst disks
    rupture, allowing the empty tanks to fill with the toxic overbrew.

    We were about to enter the building when a guard asked Larbey who we
    were. He told him and the guard advised that the burst disks had just
    ruptured. Perhaps we wouldn't be going in, after all. "Hey, Richard,"
    I said to my friend. "Would you stop turning into a butterfly?" On our
    way out of the factory offices on this gray, rainy day, I noticed a
    sign listing "incidents" for the year: 486. No fatalities.

    On the Virgin train back to London, Bremner and I spoke with Megan
    Harding, a New Zealander in Britain who represented APS Chemicals in a
    tentative joint venture with Octel to market Valvemaster, a
    phosphorus-based additive said to prevent the dreaded valve-seat
    recession. Harding explained that DMA-4, as Valvemaster was formerly
    known, was originally discovered as a detergent additive by Du Pont in
    the sixties arid was apparently once the world's leading gasoline
    additive. The unexpected protection it offered against valve-seat
    recession was discovered in the seventies, with more than a billion
    gallons of fuel bulk-treated since the advent of unleaded gas.
    (Valvemaster faces a sales ceiling, however, for, like lead,
    phosphorus fouls catalytic converters.) In one of the press handouts
    Harding gave us, Octel CEO Dennis Kerrison claims that Valvemaster is
    "proven, reliable, cost-effective." The next time I find myself in
    Ellesmere Port 1 plan to ask the man, If all that's true, why then
    haven't you stopped selling lead? The world--and Louise Woodward--have
    a right to know.


    By Jamie Lincoln Kitman

    Jamie Lincoln Kitman. a New York lawyer and writer, is a columnist and
    editor for Automobile Magazine and England's Car. A member of the
    Society of Automotive Historians, he drives a 1966 Lancia Fulvia and a
    1969 Ford Lotus-Cortina, both of which run fine on unleaded. Research
    support was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation
    Institute. The author wishes to thank for their assistance and to
    acknowledge the research of Professor William Kovarik, Dr. Herbert
    Needleman, Professors David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz. Dr. Jerome
    Nriagu, Dr Amy Kyle, Richard Merritt. Richard Bremner and Alan Loeb.
    He would also like to express particular gratitude to his research
    associate, Bill Krauss, his editor, Richard Lingeman. and his
    fact-checker. Michael Kunichika.

                                Inset Article

                              THE HALL OF SHAME


    Charles "Boss" Kettering. 1876-1958. Inventor of electric
           self-starter, later head of General Motors' research division;
           major GM shareholder. Popular public speaker ("The greatest
           salesman of science this country has ever known"--Time), with
           more than 2,000 speeches and numerous articles to his name.
           Championed leaded gas before public and complaisant government,
           abandoning superior but less profitable additive--ethanol--he
           had earlier praised.


    Thomas Midgley Jr. 1889-1944. Mechanical engineer, self-taught
           chemist, longtime Kettering "go to" man, "the father of Ethyl
           gas." Stumbled on tetraethyl lead (TEL) additive in 1921,
           defended its safety to government. Alerted Kettering to immense
           profits to be made in leaded gasoline. Other contributions to
           better living through chemistry: Invented Freon and related
           family of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in pesticides,
           plastics and propellants; later banned by EPA.


    Pierre (1870-1954) and Irenee (1877-1963) du Pont. Scions of
           200-year-old family-explosives business; used windfall profits
           made selling gunpowder during World War I to purchase a
           controlling interest in General Motors. Pierre installed as GM
           president; Irenee as head of Du Pont. Their firms
           productionized TEL and, separately and together with Standard
           Oil of New Jersey, earned royalties on gasoline sold around the
           world between 1924 and 1992. Ignored the dangers of TEL
           production while hundreds died or suffered poisoning at their
           factories; misled press and public as to nature of hazard posed
           by lead gasoline. Aided Nazi war effort in pacts with German
           chemical giant I.G. Farben.


    Dr. Robert Kehoe. 1893-1992. Toxicologist, chief medical consultant to
           Ethyl Gasoline Corporation; leading apologist for its leaded
           gasoline additive. Director, Kettering Laboratory, University
           of Cincinnati, founded with girl from GM, Du Pont and Ethyl.
           Came to prominence at 1925 Surgeon General's hearing on
           tetraethyl lead, claiming unique expertise; for next forty
           years point man of GM/Standard Oil/Du Pont monopoly on lead
           research. Central belief, later debunked: All planetary life
           forms carry heavy natural lead burden. Proponent of practice of
           perpetually obfuscating; scientific data that question safety
           of lead, setting pattern for other polluting industries and
           makers of hazardous products opposed to regulation. In 1966
           tells Muskie Clean Air subcommittee: "I would simply say that
           in developing information on this subject [leaded gasoline], I
           have had a greater responsibility than any other persons in
           this country."

                                Inset Article

                           THE AMAZING MR. MIDGLEY

    Born in 1889 in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, Thomas Midgley Jr. was a
           mechanical engineer with a self-taught knowledge of chemistry
           and a fondness for strong drink. Though his aptitude would lead
           the chemical industry to honor him on several occasions during
           his lifetime, many today might wish he'd never picked up a
           beaker. In addition to his work on leaded gasoline, this holder
           of 117 patents memorably discovered the refrigerant
           dichlorodifluoromethane--trademarked by his employer, General
           Motors, as Freon. If you count his discovery of the related
           family of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used in aerosol spray
           propellants, foam for insulation, bedding, packing, solvents,
           pesticides, defoliants and cleaners, Midgley can truly be said
           to have left his mark on the world. (Ozone-burning CFCs were
           banned by the EPA in 1978, leaded gas in 1986.) Often
           overlooked is his work with Kettering during World War I on a
           flying bomb, the world's first cruise missile.

    Years after his captivating free-style tetraethyl lead demonstrations,
           Midgley demonstrated the nontoxicity and nonflammability of
           Freon by filling his lungs with the vapor, exhaling and
           extinguishing a lit candle. His final years with GM were
           devoted to pure research into rubber. When Midgley's inquiries
           proved unprofitable, GM cut him loose. He died at the age of 55
           after four years of paralysis, allegedly caused by polio. An
           obituary in Time reported that he succumbed to accidental
           strangulation "by a self-devised harness for getting in and out
           of bed." Charles Kettering called him "the greatest discovery I
           ever made."

                                Inset Article

                               THE HALL OF FAME


    Yandell Henderson. 1873-1944. Chairman, Medical Research Board, US
           Aviation Service WWI, consultant, Bureau of Mines. Supervised
           hundreds of poison-gas experiments, developed first Army gas
           mask, which he personally tested in a chamber filled with
           chlorine gas. Professor of applied physiology, Yale. Approached
           by Ethyl to study TEL, he insisted on research freedom; offer
           withdrawn. Most insightful critic of TEL after its
           introduction. Criticized industry funding of research.
           Identified nature of lead hazard sixty years before its ban and
           predicted that "conditions will grow worse so gradually and the
           development of lead poisoning will come on so insidiously (for
           this is the nature of the disease) that leaded gasoline will be
           in nearly universal use and large numbers of cars will have
           been sold that can run only on that fuel before the public and
           the Government awaken to the situation." Refused to buy leaded
           gasoline and planned trips so as to be able to stop at Amoco
           stations, which carried unleaded gas.


    Alice Hamilton. 1869-1970. Physician at 24, groundbreaking work in
           industrial medicine and pathology. Conducted first survey of
           use and effects of poison in US industry. Hired in 1910 by
           State of Illinois to study lead trades. Shocking findings
           resulted in new regulations, minimum safety standards. First
           woman faculty member at Harvard Medical School in 1919 (never
           tenured). Angered American Institute of Lead Manufacturers by
           issuing report, which that institute had funded, showing that
           lead accumulated in the bones and tissues of those exposed to
           it and was neither metabolized nor excreted. Early critic of
           tetraethyl lead use in gasoline. In 1925 told TEL makers, who
           claimed factories could be made safe: "You may control the
           conditions within a factory. But how are you going to control
           the whole country?" Also, "Where there is lead some case of
           lead poisoning sooner or later develops, even under the
           strictest supervision."


    Clair Patterson. 1922-1995. Geochemist, Cal Tech professor.
           Definitively dated Earth as 4.55 billion years old. Aided by
           new generation of mass spectrometers and insistence on strict
           cleanliness so as not to contaminate samples. Scrupulous,
           incorruptible and methodical; basis for character Sam Beech in
           Saul Bellow novel The Dean December. An asteroid and an
           Antarctic mountain peak named after him. Stumbled on heavy
           planetary lead contamination while dating Earth; detailed dust
           route to lead exposure, concluded industrial man has raised his
           lead burden 100 times and atmospheric lead 2,000 times.
           Measured lead content in bones of 1,600-year-old Peruvian
           Indians. His 1965 work "Contaminated and Natural Lead
           Environments of Man," in Archives of Environmental Health,
           assailed by industry but cited in 230 articles, blew the lid
           off forty years of industry-funded lead science. Resisted
           subsequent industry attempts to buy, fire and isolate him.
           Hired by NASA to analyze moon rocks. Quote: "It is not just a
           mistake for public health agencies to cooperate and collaborate
           with industries in investigating and deciding whether public
           health is endangered--it is a direct abrogation and violation
           of the duties and responsibilities of those public health


    Herbert Needleman. 1927--. Pediatric neurologist, University of
           Pennsylvania, Harvard, University of Pittsburgh. Published 1972
           article in Nature proposing that dental-lead levels be used to
           estimate body lead burden after exposure had ended; harangued
           by oil industry, Du Pont, Associated Octel and Ethyl. In 1976
           became one of the first scientists funded to study effects of
           lead besides Ethyl's Kehoe. In 1979 published, with Alan
           Leviton and Bob Reed, a study showing that children with
           elevated levels of lead in their teeth score lower on tests of
           IQ, speech and language and on measures of attention. Later,
           supplied additional key scientific research to EPA as it
           prepared to eliminate lead from gasoline. Attacked regularly by
           lead interests. Hunton and Williams, law firm of Ethyl board
           members, filed an academic dishonesty complaint with the NIH.
           The University of Pittsburgh did not support him; he came
           through a grueling public hearing with his reputation intact.
           Quote: "If my case illuminates anything, it shows that the
           federal investigative process can be rather easily exploited by
           commercial interests to cloud the consensus about a toxicant's
           dangers, can slow the regulatory pace, can damage an
           investigator's credibility, and can keep him tied up almost to
           the exclusion of any scientific output for long stretches of
           time, while defending himself."

                                Inset Article

                             LEAD KILLS CARS, TOO

    While they were busy glossing over its perilous shortcomings for the
           public health, tetraethyl lead's boosters almost forgot that
           their "gift of God" posed some serious problems for cars.
           Instead of benefitting, engines were getting destroyed by lead
           deposits. GM researchers had noted this early in TEL's life,
           but Charles Kettering was anxious to get the new product to
           market. Problems, he argued, could be worked out with real-life
           experience to guide them. But necessary changes were slow in

    In May 1926, three years after leaded fuel went on sale, GM's Alfred
           Sloan wrote Ethyl's new president, Earle Webb, to express
           concern that valve corrosion with Ethyl gas was so bad after
           2,000-3,000 miles that it rendered cars "inoperative." Rather
           late in the day, one would have thought, he urged further
           development of the product. Referring to Ethyl's decision to
           re-enter the market, he wrote, "Now that we are back in again
           and are considering pushing the sale [of Ethyl] to the utmost,
           I think we ought to be concerned with this question."

    So the additive that Standard, GM, Du Pont and the Ethyl Gasoline
           Corporation defended so vigorously before the Surgeon General
           and the nation wasn't even any good yet--it junked people's
           second-largest investment, after their homes. Incredibly, in
           spite of the near-magical claims being made for TEL, GM's own
           car divisions were at this very time bitterly resisting engine
           modifications to take advantage of it. In fact, GM's Buick.
           Chevrolet. Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Oakland and Cadillac divisions
           would not recommend it to their customers until 1927, when they
           circulated bulletins to their dealers calling on them to
           withdraw any objections to leaded fuel. This was six years
           after TEL's invention and a full year and a half after a
           fractious national debate on TEL at the highprofile Public
           Health Service conference in Washington. Tellingly, support for
           TEL was forever lacking in the Society of Automotive Engineers
           Journal, the automotive engineering community's leading organ.

    The damaging effects to which Sloan referred necessitated the
           introduction of chemical "scavengers," which would cause the
           residue of the spent ethyl fluid to leave the engine along with
           the car's exhaust gases, thus preventing lead buildup. After a
           little trial-and-error experimentation proved the
           destructiveness of chlorine, ethylene dibromide (EDB), a
           byproduct of bromine invented by Dow Chemical in the twenties,
           was selected as the scavenger of choice.

    Proving the old maxim that you only make things worse when you tell a
           lie. Ethyl's adoption of EDB and its widespread use have
           created several waves of secondary environmental disaster. In
           more recent times, EDB combustion has been linked to
           halogenated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans in exhaust,
           believed to be cancer risks. Also, when EDB is burned in the
           engine, it creates methyl bromide, which as a component of
           automobile exhaust the World Meteorological Organization has
           termed one of "three potentially major sources of atmospheric
           methyl bromide," which harms the ozone layer.

    With the eventual demise of the US market for leaded fuel written on
           the wall, Ethyl had to find a new market for its lead scavenger
           EDB, and in 1972 it did--as a pesticide. Twelve years later,
           EDB would be banned by the EPA in this application following a
           1974 finding that it was a powerful cancer-causing agent in
           animals; a 1977 finding of "strong evidence'' that it caused
           cancer in humans; and a 1981 determination that it was "a
           potent mutagen"--a carcinogen with especially damaging
           consequences for human reproductive systems, powerful enough
           that it should be removed immediately from the food chain. This
           was bad news, as the United States was by now putting 20
           million pounds of EDB into its soils annually, and it had begun
           to show up in cake mixes and cereal. The Occupational Safety
           and Health Administration (OSHA) would also act to restrict EDB
           exposure, and the EPA would cite its reduction in the
           atmosphere as an additional benefit of the leaded gasoline

    Today the mechanical benefits of unleaded gasoline are obvious. Ever
           wonder why your new car goes longer than your old one between
           spark-plug changes? Or why exhaust systems last longer? Or why
           oil changes don't need to be as frequent? Try unleaded fuel. In
           a report delivered to the Society of Automotive Engineers,
           lead-free fuel was shown to significantly reduce engine
           rusting, piston-ring wear and sludge and varnish deposits, as
           well as to reduce camshaft wear. In 1985 an EPA report
           concluded that reduced lead levels reduced piston-ring and
           cylinder-bore wear, preventing engine failure and improving
           fuel economy. Estimated maintenance savings exceeded the
           maintenance costs associated with recession of exhaust valves,
           which is caused by the use of unleaded gasoline.

    Gary Smith, an English Ford engineer working in the area of fuel
           economy and quality/vehicle/environmental engineering, told The
           Nation: "The higher the lead content, the more it messes the
           engine oil up, and we wanted to get longer intervals between
           engine oil changes, so that's a negative for lead as well. ...
           [The scavengers used in leaded gasoline] or combustion of
           anything with chlorine or bromine will make hydrochloric and
           hydrobromic acid, so the actual muffler systems get corroded.
           They end up on--and affect--the spark plugs. Because we're
           trying to keep warranty costs down and [lower] costs for
           customers, we found ourselves going away from lead."

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list