7/17 Open Thread: The Willful Poisoning of a Generation


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Image from page 342 of "Sunset" (1898)

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I somewhat cribbed that title from a vaguely remembered piece abut how the USA's fascination with chemical based farming and food preservation as well as chemically enhanced foods was, in essence, a grand scale experiment upon the US populace during a certain period of time. That is true enough, in fact, though the victims of even that mishegoss exceeded a generation. I suspect, upon recollection, that the author felt remedial and curative action was taken by the creation and subsequent "empowerment" of the FDA and EPA, which may even have been true for some short period of time preceding the onset of corporate capture of those agencies and the finalization of corporate ownership of most of the rest of government. Whatever the case, this is not about that.
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This is abut the intentional lead poisoning of, admittedly, multiple generations. On those rare occasions when this is written about or discussed, there is generally a ton of pseudo-exculpatory narrative thrown out; the usual misdirection, deflection, lies of omission and other gaslighting tricks that are routine when there is major ass covering to be done. They will be recited and noted in this article because that is, after all, the official approved narrative, which are all now sacred and off limits unless one is a Russian propagandist. Without in any way adding to them, it needs to be admitted that the perpetrators, at the time the crime was initiated, understandably envisioned that the major impacts would be upoon the poor (and the working class, to the extent that they were differentiable back then), and that the immediate impact on adults of middle age or beyond would, on average, not be overly pronounced or noticeable before their expiration date.
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This is, in short, the condensed story of tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) and Ethyl Corporation
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The Internal Combustion Engine was a wonderful thing, bringing increasing mobility to ever increasing numbers of persons and creating new markets aplenty. It did, unfortunately, have a self limiting drawback. Power output, for any given size (and hence weight) of engine was roughly proportional to the octane rating of the fuel. At higher octane ratings, however, the engines would suffer pre-ignition, also known as knock, a potentially destructive and power sapping condition. This popped up even unto the fifties and sixties, manifested as "engine knock" and a conditin when the engine would continue to run after it was turned off, known as "run-on" or "dieseling". When it occurred, the cognoscenti would shake their head and mutter "bad gas", and the more cogniscent would also, as soon as reasonably possible, check their spark plugs for unseemly deposits that might create hot spots. This was, of course, quite an aggrvation to one's chaffeur and all of the hoi-polloi, but also a great marketing opportunity. However, the internal combustion machine became an important component of innumerable war machines and warfare logistic trains, and that, my friend, was pretty serious fucking business. Luckily, there was a solution, in fact there were several, but all except one were ignored for reasons
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Eureka! A GM employee named Thomas Midgely Jr. discovered the anti-knock properties of tetra ethyl lead, possibly in collaboration with, or at least technically under the supervision of his boss, Charles F. Kettering. late in 1921. GM and standard Oil formed a jint venture to make leaded gas, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation, or Ethyl Corp. By the fifties, "Ethyl" had become slang for high octane gas in the same manner that "Xerox" once came to mean photocopy. High octane gas was vital to our war effort in WWIi, but in the fifties it was discovered to be toxic leading to its phase out in 1976 and elimination in 1996.Oh yes, along the way, in 1924, dosens of employees who handles it were sickened, and 5 died. In 1925, a conference was convened by the government and it was decided to keep making the stuff, because there was no substitute for it and the only risk was to employees who simply needed to be adequately protected.
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That narrative isn't completely false, but it is far from true too. You can find it here https://aoghs.org/products/tetraethyl-lead-gasoline/ a short read from an industry cite, natch, and, of course, wikipedia, here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetraethyllead and here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline . The latter artilce includes the following section, not quite the same tale, but close enugh.

Leaded gasoline controversy, 1924–1925
With the increased use of thermally cracked gasolines came an increased concern regarding its effects on abnormal combustion, and this led to research for antiknock additives. In the late 1910s, researchers such as A.H. Gibson, Harry Ricardo, Thomas Midgley Jr. and Thomas Boyd began to investigate abnormal combustion. Beginning in 1916, Charles F. Kettering began investigating additives based on two paths, the "high percentage" solution (where large quantities of ethanol were added) and the "low percentage" solution (where only 2–4 grams per gallon were needed). The "low percentage" solution ultimately led to the discovery of tetraethyllead (TEL) in December 1921, a product of the research of Midgley and Boyd. This innovation started a cycle of improvements in fuel efficiency that coincided with the large-scale development of oil refining to provide more products in the boiling range of gasoline. Ethanol could not be patented but TEL could, so Kettering secured a patent for TEL and began promoting it instead of other options.

The dangers of compounds containing lead were well-established by then and Kettering was directly warned by Robert Wilson of MIT, Reid Hunt of Harvard, Yandell Henderson of Yale, and Charles Kraus of the University of Potsdam in Germany about its use. Kraus had worked on tetraethyllead for many years and called it "a creeping and malicious poison" that had killed a member of his dissertation committee.[31][32] On 27 October 1924, newspaper articles around the nation told of the workers at the Standard Oil refinery near Elizabeth, New Jersey who were producing TEL and were suffering from lead poisoning. By 30 October, the death toll had reached five.[32] In November, the New Jersey Labor Commission closed the Bayway refinery and a grand jury investigation was started which had resulted in no charges by February 1925. Leaded gasoline sales were banned in New York City, Philadelphia and New Jersey. General Motors, DuPont, and Standard Oil, who were partners in Ethyl Corporation, the company created to produce TEL, began to argue that there were no alternatives to leaded gasoline that would maintain fuel efficiency and still prevent engine knocking. After flawed studies determined that TEL-treated gasoline was not a public health issue, the controversy subsided.[32]

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The facts are that it was known to be toxic and deadly, and that it was known that alternative anti-knock solutions existed, known even to Midgely and Kettering, and almost certainly to the government investigative conference. Said conference, suddenly and arbitrarily decided that it wasn't its job to look into possible alternatives while permitting the continued production on the basis of the fact that there were no alternatives, a self inflicted self-fulfilling prophesy no doubt expounded with many a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know-what-I-mean. That conference was, for the record, called on behalf of and at the bequest of the oil industry, which feared that local regualtions could ruin their incipient gold mine. We've known about lead for centuries, they knew it was deadly and cumulative, and tetra ethyl lead had been banned in Europe for years because of its toxicity. They knew that alternatives were out there but went along with it because anti-knock agents were needed to get the full economic potential out of the Internal Combustion Engine, and the oil companies wanted it and it only for that purpose. Among other things, one alternative ws terrifying to them - ethanol, which had been used experimentally as a stand-alone fuel for automobiles and which they were afraid might replace gasoline, especailly if it was going to be used as an additive anyway. Besides that, it couldn't be patented. Finally, they were compelled to phase it out because, wait for it, it munged up catalytic converters. It wasn't about our health, but abut the auto industry's health. Some of this is in a very short Brittanica article here: https://www.britannica.com/science/tetraethyl-lead . More is in a short piece by the Smithsonian here https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/leaded-gas-poison-invented-180... which, among other things says the following:

The drawback: it was a known poison, described in 1922 by a Du Pont executive as "a colorless liquid of sweetish odor, very poisonous if absorbed through the skin, resulting in lead poisoning almost immediately." That statement is important, Kitman wrote: later, major players would deny they knew TEL to be so poisonous.

The reference to Kitman is to James Lincoln Kitman who had written an article on the subject for The Nation in 2000.

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Lastly there is an article published in Wired on January 5, 2013 titled Looney Gas and Lead Poisoning: A Short, Sad History and located here: https://www.wired.com/2013/01/looney-gas-and-lead-poisoning-a-short-sad-... . By all means, reat that article. The title comes from the fact that all the employees called the product "Looney Gas" and the plant where it was made "the Looney Gas Building" because it made those who worked with it "looney".

men working at the plant quickly gave it the “loony gas” tag because anyone who spent much time handling the additive showed stunning signs of mental deterioration, from memory loss to a stumbling loss of coordination to sudden twitchy bursts of rage. And then in October of 1924, workers in the TEL building began collapsing, going into convulsions, babbling deliriously. By the end of September, 32 of the 49 TEL workers were in the hospital; five of them were dead.

Among other things, it leads to a lot of aggression it has recently been revealed, ever increasing amounts in the environment might explain much

It was some fifty years later – in 1986 – that the United States formally banned lead as a gasoline additive. By that time, according to some estimates, so much lead had been deposited into soils, streets, building surfaces, that an estimated 68 million children would register toxic levels of lead absorption and some 5,000 American adults would die annually of lead-induced heart disease. As lead affects cognitive function, some neuroscientists also suggested that chronic lead exposure resulted in a measurable drop in IQ scores during the leaded gas era. And more recently, of course, researchers had suggested that TEL exposure and resulting nervous system damage may have contributed to violent crime rates in the 20th century.

oh yeah, so there it is, we wallowed in that shit. I recall using leaded gas as parts claner and clearly recall the unique smell of gas stations, abandoned gas stations, garages and parking lots.

Image is an ad for Ethyl from a Sunset Magazine, and is misdated in the archive.

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Its an open thread so have at it. The floor is yours
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Lookout's picture

...not to mention lead based paints.

Maybe one day we'll drive these sorts of vehicles...
8 min

and ride on these types of trains...
4 min
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Y4QGFte3T8

Have a good one!

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

enhydra lutris's picture

@Lookout
overproduces too, which is cool and could become part of a micro-grid and off ya go. I saw somehing posted on a somewhat bigger rig with large fold out awning arrays that was much more expensive, no doubt, but more like 250-300 miles per charge. That's still a sort of minimum for me, out here, because 50 miles from Mojave or Barstow or Needles is, well, kinda nowhere that it would be reasonable to be.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

smiley7's picture

"i saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness;" perhaps caused by lead.

Best i have some more coffee, brain knocks here.

Recall the problem well, thanks for this good morning read; have a great one.

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enhydra lutris's picture

@smiley7
but I'm pretty sure that madness was largely culturally induces, the effects of an insane culture and world gone mad upon essentially rational people. Just starting cuppa #2 here, so I hear ya loud and clear.

Thanks for reading.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

k9disc's picture

talking about, but the long term attempts of a diligent researcher to bring the dangers to light.

Pretty interesting, too, as it's a complete template for any modern corporate R&D product rollout - cigarettes, food additives, pharma, Big Ag, fracking, tar sands, etc. And to make it even more so, like with many tools of control and the systemic problems they sweep under the rug and usher forth, people tend to refuse to generalize the lesson, "Nope on glyphosphate, nope on BGH, nope on prescription drugs, nope on wifi - why are you so crazy!? This stuff could never happen!"

Better Living Through Chemistry was a terrible idea. Good for profits, bad for the Earth and her biota. It's become a reflexively teleological concept. If it isn't true, the technocracy can't save us. And, whoo boy, do we need saving.

Just don't ask me what we need saving from, as it's clearly NOT corporate hegemony, regulatory capture, and profit seeking.

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

enhydra lutris's picture

@k9disc
knowingly used again and again. We seemingly can't learn and keep falling for it again and again, but they've got the controls and the power too, which is a bit limiting. The alternative to being endlessly rolled over would seemingly be to be endlessly inthe streets or else clusters of self-sufficient islands, which they no doubt would find a way to mtivate the others to crush. IT is, however, getting late, so we do need to work on that and other solutions.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Azazello's picture

Here's another article on leaded gas and its effects,
from Mother Jones, 2013: Lead: America’s Real Criminal Element: The hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.

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enhydra lutris's picture

@Azazello
when it was new. It is also the one referred to in the Wired article I suspect. Thanks mucho for the link all the same, it provides a certain completeness and rounds things out nicely.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

lotlizard's picture

https://taz.de/Neue-Fluchtrouten-aus-Afrika/!5607064/

Original foreign-correspondent report from the Green- and left-leaning “Taz” newspaper (full disclosure: published by a co-op of which I am a member).

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enhydra lutris's picture

@lotlizard

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

lotlizard's picture

https://race2dinner.com/

Sounds like political BDSM, top seeks bottom, dominant seeks submissive stuff to me.

Are there really white women out there who are so masochistic and/or guilt-ridden that this idea would appeal to them?

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enhydra lutris's picture

@lotlizard
get what they're trying to do and it might very well be that, in spite of the rhetoric, they'll get enough takers that the idea or process will spread. The whole "ownership" thing is something that we have a hard time dealing with, especially in the US, but it is something which can lead to a lot of acceleration in the rate of change too. The funny thing is that it is de rigeur in a lot of other arenas, but is deemed astonishing in the case of racism. So many other processes, involving small group introspection, exchanges, behavior modification and all that key off of that type of thing "I am an alcoholic", "I am an addict", "I am an enabler" (closest to the mark for most, I suspect), and the like. The rest is probably "listen to our stories to see how immersive the condition is for us in order to be able to truly empathize", but done in small groups in personal venues instead of in some rented auditorium. That is, of course, just a guess at what this phenomenon is intended to be

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

lotlizard's picture

https://www.ecosophia.net/the-long-view/

Once a society is saddled with a dominant minority, there’s a set of standard moves that people within the society use to try to deal with problems that the people in charge are no longer trying to solve. Unless you live under a damp rock, dear reader, you already know all of them. Toynbee calls them detachment, transcendence, futurism, and archaism. Detachment abandons society to its fate by going back to the land, or off to another part of the world, or inward to a subculture airtight enough to shut out current events. Transcendence is the turn to religion—Spengler calls it the Second Religiosity—which comes in the latter days of every civilization, as people frustrated by this world place their hopes on another. Futurism is the attempt to build, or at least daydream about, a perfect society in the future. Archaism, finally, is the quest to Make (insert name of society here) Great Again by rejecting a failed status quo in favor of policies that worked in the past.

There were a few of us who said something much less popular. We predicted that the grand technological breakthroughs were not going to happen, and the grand social awakenings were not going to happen, and the grand apocalyptic catastrophes were not going to happen. What’s more, we offered solid reasons why none of these things were going to happen. We predicted instead that demand destruction and an assortment of temporary gimmicks would keep things rolling on, that measures of quality of life would continue to slide downhill, that politics and society would become increasingly fractured and irrational as people frantically tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, and that the prolonged and ragged process of decline I’ve called the Long Descent would continue to pick up speed.

That’s the shape of our future. It bears remembering, too, that fossil fuels aren’t the only nonrenewable resources that are being extracted at a breakneck pace just now with no thought for tomorrow. For that matter, the global climate isn’t the only natural system on which we depend that’s being disrupted by human pollution in ways that are already circling around behind us and kicking us in the backside. As Kenneth Boulding pointed out a long time ago, the only people who think that you can have limitless economic expansion on a finite planet are madmen and economists. In the real world—the world the rest of us, willy-nilly, are constrained to inhabit—actions have equal and opposite reactions, and trying to push the pedal of economic growth all the way to the metal all the time simply means that you run out of gas sooner.

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enhydra lutris's picture

@lotlizard

the only people who think that you can have limitless economic expansion on a finite planet are madmen and economists.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Anja Geitz's picture

Sometimes things like this actually read like fiction to me. I mean how else could one explain the total disregard of the consequences? Sigh. Hopefully when human beings become an endangered species, there will be a trail of documents still left to explain why.

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If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

enhydra lutris's picture

@Anja Geitz
with data fading quicker than matter. We will leave behind an all covering patina of plastic and some chunks of steel and concrete, or so I fear.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Anja Geitz's picture

@enhydra lutris

In cave writing?

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If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

ggersh's picture

@enhydra lutris @enhydra lutris left everything in stone, of course they
had help from the "gods" in the construction of the
stone relics.

with data fading quicker than matter. We will leave behind an all covering patina of plastic and some chunks of steel and concrete, or so I fear.

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trump will be amerika's last president

so now that the D's are a wholly owned subsidiary of the CIA
anyone saying that we live in democracy is a conspiracy theorist.

enhydra lutris's picture

@ggersh

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

magiamma's picture

et al...

Great posts this morning. The guy with the electric VW is amazing. Reminds me of back-in-the-day when we were all doing shit like that. Making things and making them work. Crafts people gone wild and wide - making composters, wood-plank planers, clay-dug-from-the-ground cleaners, huge kilns, you name it - all those things and so much more because of transferable skills. Build it, weld it, forge it, put motors on it, gears, whatevah. Now we have so much more technology and look at that solar powered VW! Yes we can. And boy howdy do we need to. Going to get a lot hotter very fast, very soon. Think about that. Solar? But what will the cloud cover be? How to harness the heat? How to cool the environment? And what about the moisture in the air? Food? My huge bamboo stand drips water off the tips of the leaves every morning, even when it is clear, but it is only a mile inland from the ocean. Time to think about that *now*, not that that is not happening, not that 'we' are not thinking far outside the box en este momento. Heat coming down soon to a planet near you. But, right now it's beautiful day in paradise. And, yes, and also, but wait, for how long? Yin yang. Have a good one, all...
(off hiking, yay)

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enhydra lutris's picture

@magiamma
tinkerers as well as assorted craftsmen of all types. Water farming and harvesting is a top concern and your bamboo is a clue. Like a redwood grove, it creates much of its own rain through condensation. I suspect that the details of the mechanism will have hydrophilic and hydrophobic surfaces as well as something which causes a localized drop in the effective dew point. Radiators that go colder than ambient could be a part.

happy hiking.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

lotlizard's picture

@magiamma  
They were full of concrete how-tos for alternative ways of living.

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enhydra lutris's picture

@lotlizard

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

ggersh's picture

@magiamma "there is a difference between progress and technology,
whereas progress benefits mankind, technology doesn't
necessarily do that. If you have a technology that is
polluting the planet that's not progress"

Modern technology and the making of everything disposable
unlike the stuff of yesteryear is polluting Mother Earth.

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7 users have voted.

trump will be amerika's last president

so now that the D's are a wholly owned subsidiary of the CIA
anyone saying that we live in democracy is a conspiracy theorist.

magiamma's picture

@ggersh
Hooked his batteries together. Technology is a double edged sword. There are ways to leverage it. The problem is not technology per se, it’s the way it’s used. Capitalists just wanna make money. It could and probably must be used as part of the solution, if one is even possible at this point. Every solution puts a price tag on Mother Earth. Just saw this in the Guardian. (Ouch...) I guess the good news is that it will wake more folks up.

Manmade Antarctic snowstorm 'could save coastal cities from rising seas
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/17/manmade-antarctic-sn...

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ggersh's picture

@magiamma from what I've seen Tesla had the answers to mans
problems of today. Electric cars, anti gravity transportation
etc.etc. and at one point was working w/Edison on bringing
electricity to the masses for free, of course Edison was a
capitalist and the rest is history.

Mankind doesn't have much time left, and our fearless leaders
are doing quite the opposite of what needs to be done....smfh

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6 users have voted.

trump will be amerika's last president

so now that the D's are a wholly owned subsidiary of the CIA
anyone saying that we live in democracy is a conspiracy theorist.

magiamma's picture

@ggersh
It would be funny. 90 machines at $481 million apiece. How much of Earth’s resources would that take? Sadly it will wake up people, but in the ‘wrong‘ way, imho.

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