Lead is in the news on a regular basis. After all, it is listed as the second most dangerous substance (after arsenic) on the government’s list. And it’s been around forever. Lead occurs naturally in small quantities in the earth’s crust, and it has been mined, smelted and used in the manufacture of products for thousands of years, although the first health effects of lead exposure were noted only in 1786.
Although now the major exposure to lead for most adults is in the workplace (battery manufacturers, ammunition makers, lead miners, auto body repair, painting, scrap metal work, electrical work, etc.) The government took an important role in limiting the population’s general exposure to lead in 1974, when the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting the lead in gasoline, and banned the use of lead in household paint (although it is still present in older buildings).
The results are only now being assessed: in 2007, economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes studied the decline in violent crime during the 1990’s and attributed it to the ban on lead in gasoline and paint, predicting that there would be greater declines in the future. Rick Nevin, another economist has shown this to be the case in other countries.
Then just this past week, an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Hard Times, Fewer Crimes” May 28, 2011 lists many reasons for the dramatic drop in violent crime, now at a 40-year low. The reasons given include larger prison populations, better security systems, refined hot-spot policing along with the drop by four-fifths in blood lead levels of Americans from 1975 (following the ban on lead in gasoline and paint) to 1991.
These studies underline the danger of exposure to lead, and clearly demonstrate that eliminating lead from our environment can have enormous health benefits to the human population. Unfortunately, lead is still around us, in the air (dust from deteriorating paint, from industrial waste), in water, in the earth, and in many of the products we assume are safe, such as cosmetics, health home remedies, toys and clothing. As industries become global, safety standards can vary from country to country and may not offer the protection we think.
So protect yourself by informing yourself about your home environment, your workplace, your hobbies, etc. For additional information, contact your state’s Department of Health and Safety or OSHA, National Lead Information Center, Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development Agency.