Gasoline pumps were once marked as, “unleaded”. Lead was an additive to reduce engine knocking, and, incidentally, a poison that affected generations. Lead additive was gradually removed starting in 1975.
If you are younger than 35 years old, you may wonder why gasoline pumps used to state that the fuel was “unleaded”. It wasn’t always that way. A formulation of lead known as, tetra-ethyl lead or TEL, was discovered in the 1920’s by a General Motors engineer to boost octane levels and reduce engine “knocking”, when added to fuel.
The addition of lead to gasoline was almost immediately recognized as a health threat and the Surgeon General asked for a voluntary limit on the amount of lead per gallon. Manufacturers of TEL and gasoline producers pretty much ignored the request and production of TEL began in earnest with companies like GM, DuPont and others building manufacturing facilities.
When half a dozen TEL facility employees went violently insane and died, safety precautions were installed in the factories, but few were concerned about the lead spewing from tailpipes. The manufacturers did a quick study and found lead residue on roadsides and even increasing in bloodstreams but concluded that the levels were not dangerously high.
By the 1970’s, the health risks of TEL were well known. However, the producers of TEL and oil companies mounted a huge and long-lasting campaign designed to sideline any attempt by the newly created Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the use of TEL in gasoline. Big companies such as Phillips Petroleum warned that the abandonment of TEL would cripple their businesses, cost billions in retrofits and waste up 600,000 barrels of oil a day.
Because of the intense resistance, the fact that lead destroyed catalytic converters in new car exhaust systems, not health, became the stimulus for a law that would reduce and eventually eliminate TEL from fuel.
The United States led this fight, but it was a global concern and by 1995 when the Clean Air Act officially banished TEL, much of the rest of the world had already done so.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin with a wide range of effects on the brain including memory loss, decrease in IQ, psychosis, and death. Because I remember the fight pretty well, I got to wondering if the elimination of this lead contaminant in our environment had had a measurable effect.
It certainly has. In 1990 alone, a peer-reviewed EPA study indicated that the reduction of TEL yielded a monetized benefit of $150 billion. In 2011 a study backed by the United Nations estimated a $2.4 trillion-dollar annual global benefit and 1.2 million fewer premature deaths directly related to the removal of TEL. In the US, environmental lead dropped by 93 percent from 1980-2009 and scientists have documented a general rise in intelligence among children as their blood levels of lead dropped by 98 percent between 1975-80 and 2005.
More revealing is that the reduction in average blood lead levels is believed to be a major cause for a reduction in violent crime rates. There is a significant (that is statistician-speak for more than coincidence) statistical correlation between the usage rate of TEL and violent crime. The violent crime curve almost exactly tracks the lead exposure curve with a 22-year time lag. One scientist explained, “Lead alters the formation of the brain. It reduces the grey matter in areas responsible for things such as impulse control and executive functioning - meaning thinking and planning." In other words, lead poisoning leads to bad decision-making. Many subsequent studies on the effects of lead have backed this up.
Few regulatory programs have been as wildly successful as the removal of lead from gasoline. When future environmental regulations seem to get in the way of profits and a soaring economy, we should remember this lesson. The true basis of a strong economy is the people and they must be healthy and sane.
Regulations often take time to see results. Greed will always try to derail regulations with disinformation and dire economic predictions, but remember, absolute proof of damage often comes from counting corpses.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho