Nota bene #4

I have something to say about lead.

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4 Responses to Nota bene #4

  1. (I said some of this on Twitter, but 140 characters)

    I’m conflicted about this lead story. On the one had, yes, lead is a neurotoxin that does nasty things to kids’ brains. Lowering lead exposures is mostly not rocket science, and we should be doing it everywhere. I’m in favour of the criminal charges laid over the Flint water crisis, and there may well be other places where the decisions were as clearly wrong.

    On the other hand, you and I almost certainly had ‘elevated blood lead levels’ growing up. I just downloaded the NHANES II data to check, and over the 1976-1980 period more than 99% of all people in the US and more than 99% of kids under 6 had blood lead over the current threshold of 5 micrograms per decilitre. Nearly 90% were above 10 micrograms per decilitre. The median was about 15. It would have been worse in earlier years, at least back to 1970 when the Clean Air Act was signed. That’s why I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘lead poisoning’ for blood lead over 5 micrograms per decilitre (and it’s not a term the CDC uses at that level). Neither you nor I grew up in the US, but Australia and the UK were more urbanised (if less car-oriented) — if you lived in a city or large town, as I did, your blood lead was probably at US levels.

    So, yes, a lot more should be done about lead paint and lead-contaminated water across the US. But lead is the big success story of pollution, and the levels that cause (justified) concern today are much lower than the levels most people were exposed to in the past.

  2. Peter Varhol says:

    @Thomas +1. Agreed, this doesn’t in any way reduce the culpability of those responsible for what happened in Flint (although it may make for a legal defense for them). This sounds like a huge fuster-cluck. But perspective is important too. Did I, growing up in a home built in the US in the 1960s, have exposure to lead in paint? Quite possibly. Was that any different than millions of my peers? Possibly not.

    And really, was their intent to harm here on a large scale? I would guess not. Intent plays a big role in liability, and I would guess that our information at the time was incomplete. And to be honest, I am not particularly stupid (others may disagree), but I had a great deal of difficulty understanding the Reuters maps and meanings. This was presented badly, and I simply don’t understand how Felix draws his conclusions from information presented in such a poor way.

    Is there a problem, still, after all these years? Almost certainly. Is the outrage expressed by Felix justified? Quite possibly. Is there fault? almost certainly. Is there intent to harm? I doubt it, so it is not at all clear to me what Felix is trying to get at.

  3. Peter Varhol says:

    Felix, you make it extremely difficult to comment on your site. Why do you turn comments off on certain posts? I recognize that you want all of your comments from other posts coming through a Facebook login, but you need to stop being a Facebook fanboy. I think just about everyone knows by now that Facebook is not the way forward in life, and I hope you recognize that and respond accordingly. Thank you.

  4. Peter Schaeffer says:

    This is completely BS, “Fake News” at its finest. In real life (outside of the liberal/left bubble), BLLs (Blood Lead Levels) have been plunging for decades. A useful statistics is that inner-city children now have BLLs far below the median for suburban children in the 1970s. Were suburban children in the 1970s suffering from lead poisoning? Clearly not. Are urban children with vastly lower BLLs suffering from leading poisoning now? Clearly not.

    The current lead-poisoning hysteria is just Fake News for fools who know none of the facts. Politically convenient for the far-left, but no actual basis in reality.

    BLLs in urban children plunged decades ago. At one time it was widely alleged that elevated BLLs had a significant impact on the IQ’s of urban children. This is probably still the conventional wisdom. See “Schwartz estimated that a 10 mcg/dL increase in blood lead causes a 2.6 point decrease in IQ level [4]”. However, this is almost certainly not true. BLLs have declined by at least 10 mcg/dL since the 1970s. See and Given that no increase in IQ has been noted as BLLs have fallen, the IQ/lead linkage was clearly exaggerated. In retrospect, lead was a useful scapegoat for the very real problems of urban children.

    Of course, acute lead poisoning is a very serious matter and was/is typically a consequence of eating lead based paint. However, the debate centered on much lower levels of lead ingestion from leaded gasoline. Lead was removed from gasoline partially as a consequence of incorrect estimates of neurotoxicity and incompatibility with catalytic converters. My intent here is not to advocate putting lead back into gasoline, but to show how alleged environmental factors have been misused in the endless debate as to what is wrong with urban life in the US.

    Wikipedia has the following data for Flint.

    “Research done after the switch to the Flint River source found that the average proportion of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels (above five micrograms per deciliter, or 5 × 10–6 grams per 100 milliliters of blood) rose from 2.4% to 4.9%, and in some hotspot areas from 4 to 10.6%. The data were taken from hospital laboratory records for children less than five years old.”

    Sounds bad… However, the average BLL for all adult Americans in 1976 was 18 ug/dl back in 1976.

    If this just more “Fake News” from Felix? Clearly, yes.

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