Clair Patterson, Measuring Earth's Age, Discovery of Pb contamination

In summary, the article discusses the history of lead and its relationship to the environment and human health, and discusses Clair Patterson's work in this area. According to the article, the lead industry has unsuccessfully attempted to discredit Patterson's work over the years, and his findings have led to major public health improvements.
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I came across a story of Clair Patterson, who investigated the age of the Earth through isotopic analysis of lead in uranium, which evolved into a study of lead in the environment and the discoveries of widespread lead contamination and scientific misconduct on the part of various persons affiliated with the lead industry, particularly the Ethyl Corporation, which produced tetraethyl lead used as an 'anti-knock' agent in gasoline. Even a National Academy of Sciences's study on the health effects of lead was tainted by scientific misconduct.

(Wikipedia article) Most people, following Kehoe's arguments, referred to "normal levels" of lead in blood, soil, and air, meaning values near the average. They assumed that because these levels were common, they were harmless. "Normal" also carries some of the meaning "natural". Patterson argued that "normal" should be replaced by "typical" and that just because a certain level of lead was commonplace, it did not mean it was without harm. "Natural", he insisted, was limited to concentrations of lead that existed in the body or environment before contamination by humans, which has occurred frequently due to technological advancements and cultural traditions.


From the Mentalfloss article:
the EPA appeared to not take his [Patterson's] complaints about industry influence seriously. In 1970, the agency, looking to establish regulations, asked the National Academy of Sciences to assemble a team of experts to write a report. The academy stacked the lineup with industry consultants, including Kehoe, and scientists with zero expertise in airborne lead. Patterson was not invited. Their report, released in 1971, ignored his research.
By the mid-1980s, the lead industry, running out of arguments, resorted to denial. In a 1984 Senate testimony, Dr. Jerome Cole, President of the International Lead Zinc Research Organization, claimed “there is simply no evidence that anyone in the general public has been harmed from lead’s use as a gasoline additive” [PDF].
Patterson compared the freshly caught albacore to canned tuna and discovered that the canned fish contained 1000 to 10,000 times more lead. The hit mainstream news and prompted manufacturers to stop soldering tin food cans with lead.

One person can make a considerable difference.

In the 1970s, lead in the atmosphere peaked to historic highs. It has since cratered to medieval levels. In the 1960s, drivers in more than a hundred countries used leaded gasoline. Today, that number is three. In 1975, the average American had a blood lead level of 15 μg/dL. Today, it’s 0.858 μg/dL [PDF]. A 2002 study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that, by the late 1990s, the IQ of the average preschooler had risen five points. Needleman writes, “The blood lead levels of today’s children are a testimony to his brilliance and integrity.”
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This is 'deja vu all over again". Nutrition studies. Money drives decisions. Which is understandable. Not always beneficial to everyone involved the whole process, though.

It is the exact problem lead had but in nutrition research related to saturated fats, trans fats and sucrose in relation to disease processes. Again misconduct. Robert Lugwig at UCSF refers to it as 'pollution' of nutrition literature. Because of science news reporting, consumers forced the trans fat change.

Same reason - companies lose huge amounts of money when they are required to change, so they resorted to paying for research (without declaring it in the papers) or using lobbyists to prevent change.

Example: Took 25+ years to go from primary research, to the FDA enforcing a change in food labeling and removing trans fats (hydrogenated fats) from the GRAS list. Interestingly, trans fat metabolism was well understood as early as 1975. Naturally occurring trans fats are not banned. See:

The same litany as lead. The American Heart Association position on fats dates from Ancel Keys flawed research in 1961 which drove the original adoption of 'unsaturated fats are all good, saturated fats are all bad'. In a large part the result of very large donations to AHA from by the folks who make Crisco:
Teicholz N, 2014 'The Big Fat Surprise' pp 85-61. Note: the AHA sponsored ad for corn oil (p 85).
To be fair, at the time of all this, everyone thought they were acting for the good of consumers.

Trans fats are mono-unsaturated. Cis and trans stereo isomers, see:
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Wow, this is a fascinating story. It's truly amazing how one person's dedication and perseverance can make such a significant impact on the world. It's concerning to hear about the influence of the lead industry and their attempts to cover up the harmful effects of lead. It's thanks to scientists like Clair Patterson that we now have regulations in place to protect our health and the environment from lead contamination. It's also reassuring to see the decline in lead levels and the positive impact it has had on children's IQ. This just goes to show the importance of scientific research and the need for unbiased, accurate information. Thank you for sharing this information.

Related to Clair Patterson, Measuring Earth's Age, Discovery of Pb contamination

1. Who is Clair Patterson and why is he important in the scientific community?

Clair Patterson was an American geochemist who is most famous for his work on determining the age of the Earth. He is also known for his discovery of widespread lead contamination in the environment due to the use of leaded gasoline.

2. How did Clair Patterson measure the age of the Earth?

Patterson used a technique called uranium-lead dating to determine the age of the Earth. This involves measuring the ratio of uranium to lead in a sample of rocks, which can then be used to calculate the age of the sample.

3. What was the significance of Patterson's discovery of lead contamination?

Patterson's discovery of lead contamination was significant because it brought attention to the harmful effects of lead on the environment and human health. This ultimately led to the phase-out of leaded gasoline and other products containing lead.

4. How did Patterson's work on lead contamination impact the scientific community?

Patterson's work on lead contamination had a major impact on the scientific community, as it brought attention to the issue and sparked further research on the effects of lead on the environment and human health. It also led to stricter regulations on the use of lead in products.

5. What is the legacy of Clair Patterson in the field of geochemistry?

Clair Patterson's legacy in the field of geochemistry is significant. His work on determining the age of the Earth and discovering lead contamination has greatly contributed to our understanding of the Earth's history and the impact of human activities on the environment. He also paved the way for further advancements in geochemical research.