Modern society began to realize the dangers of lead in the late 1800s, but for a long time continued using it in various products regardless. The League of Nations banned lead in paint in 1922, but the United States didn’t enact a ban until 1978. And even though scientists understood how dangerous lead-based gasoline was in the 1920s, it wasn’t until 1986 that the government began to phase it out, and some states still used it as late as 1991.
The huge delay between our understanding of leaded gasoline as dangerous and its actual banning in the U.S. was largely due to efforts by the gasoline industry, which was profiting from the use of this life-threatening product. This is very similar to misinformation campaigns by the tobacco industry against the dangers of smoking in the 50’s and 60’s, and that of the oil industry against the dangers of global warming today.
Lead was classified as toxic because of its effects on the body. Whether through inhalation of dust particles, digestion from a water source, lead accumulates in nerve tissue and bone marrow. Lead was, and still is to some extent, extremely common in many products, most notably house paint, and children’s toys. Children are particularly susceptible to negative effects of lead, since they are still in development. Damage to the brain, kidney, muscle and bone growth has been associated with lead poisoning, and can lead to seizures and learning impediments. A ban on lead in house paint was put into effect in 1978, but an estimated 24 million homes still have it, and 400,000 children in the United States may be effected with lead poisoning.
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