Our friend lead (a little two-act about bad plumbing)

Act I

If Fox News sponsored a cartoon strip in the ’20s, it would no doubt look a lot like this one. This picture is so twisted, it actually makes my heart smile:

I submit to you that whoever illustrated this image did so under heavy influence of lead-induced hallucinations. Every detail is perfectly deranged.

EXHIBIT A:  Why is the sun shining from the bottom corner of the page and not the top? Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t suns typically above us in the sky? Are we to believe these lead-addled characters are flying over the sun? How interesting then that they don’t look terribly airborne—let alone, stratosphere-borne.

Then there’s the “official” coat-of-arms for lead paint (where the sun should be). I was not aware of such heraldry.

After that, we simply cannot ignore the kid himself, a paunchy, androgynous Dutch lad (who was really Irish-American) riding a leaden half-anvil/half-pony—with that narrow wooden ladder wedged between his armpit and shoulder, a paintbrush larger than his face grasped with one hand, with the other hand sporting an effeminate grip on reins attached to the ass part of a bucket of white lead paint (please excuse the plethora of prepositions in that last sentence. Painful, perhaps; worth it, holy shit yes).

Next up, wooden clogs. I’d bet all my beaver pelts that climbing a ladder in slippery, heelless timber shoes is a recipe for disaster, and a definite no-no in the painting world.

And just where do those lead stirrups the danger-clogs are crammed into come from? I don’t see no stinkin’ saddle, or even a girth strap (yet another excuse to say “girth strap”) under the anvil to give the half-assed appearance of a saddle. Perhaps the stirrups are a fortuitous birth defect from lead exposure? I see no other logical explanation.

Now let’s pay attention to that antenna-thingy protruding from the right hindquarters of the anvil-horse. What in tarnation is it? A tail? A long, pointy skin tag? Or perchance an aerodynamic tailfin? Whatever it may be, why?

Act II

Why indeed? Get to know a brief history of lead and lead poisoning (recorded history of symptoms begins in 2nd century BCE, though it’s been plaguing us for 8,000 years), and you’ll realize this image is utter propaganda. Slanted remnants of a veritable human holocaust, all propagated in the name of industry. Regrettably, this sentiment is all-too-cliché these days. But what makes lead special is, it probably started the whole industry-destroying-humanity trend. The grandfather of mass human destruction. So Sieg Heil, lead. Sieg-fucking-heil.

That everyday products and children’s toys containing significant amounts of a known poison have lasted for as long as they have in “civilized” nations like ours makes us that much dumber (lead-based paint was finally banned from domestic use in US in 1977, although it is still widely employed by military and industry, including roadways and parking lot lines; tetraethyl lead [more on this later], a.k.a. “leaded” gasoline, was finally phased out from the US in 1986; lead in plastics has still not been banned in the US; the EU, China and Australia have their own respective litanies of piss-poor lead regulations and frightfully recent lead-related disasters to downplay; and it’s still quite rampant in “developing” nations [developing…lead poisoning]), and it makes the trippy cartoon above and these first few pages below (of another wonderfully demented Dutch Boy cartoon book) even more embarrassing for humanity (fuck that sentence was long):

(love this page; that electric light really is quite gay)

(For the other seven pages of this riveting horror story, click HERE. If you can’t wait to read more bloggin’, rock onward.)

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  Before the lead paint consortium that became Dutch Boy adopted its name and its beloved, innocent mascot, ’twas known by a slightly-more-sinister maiden name—the National Lead Company. Kinda makes you wonder if history might be different had it kept its old name, eh?

Simply put, lead is the devil for humankind (and other animals, too; but none so thoroughly as humans), especially for kids. Exposure comes through inhalation, ingestion, contact with any orifice, or even straight through the skin. And it’s everywhere—air, water, soil, paint, pipes, plastics, dust, you name it. Among a gazillion other ghastly side effects, lead is a potent neurotoxin. It fucks with your brain, and all that implies. It also stunts growth, delays development, decreases intelligence quotient and causes nervous system damage, kidney damage, short-term memory damage and also, short-term memory damage. Lead attacks every organ system of the body. For adults (who have a slightly higher threshold than kids), it leads to hypertension, madness, hallucinations and reproductive problems for both sexes. Oh, and death, too.

But wait, there’s more! Act now, and you get this nifty lead fact from Wikipedia, FREE:  “Countries with the highest air lead levels have also been found to have the highest murder rates,” even after adjusting for confounding factors. In the same vein, it’s been impressively theorized that childhood lead exposure rates correspond very strongly (up to 90%) to violent crime rates in the US over the last century. Check these two charts from the study:

Fucked up coincidence? Methinks not.

Know that, then know this:  in late 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seriously considered removing health standards for lead and taking it off the list of toxic air pollutants (after being on it for a mere three decades). You know, just for kicks. Surely the EPA was working in the best interests of the people and our planet with that move.

Getting a smidge more personal, let’s wax nostalgic about one of the Superstars of Lead, chemist Thomas Midgley, Jr. In the pantheon of lead advocacy and corresponding human misery, there is perhaps no more highly influential soul than Monsieur Midgley. In fact, noted historian J.R. McNeill described Midgley as having “more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.” I guess you could call Midgley the “Atmospheric Hitler,” only Midgley’s legacy destroyed a lot more than 11 million lives (Hitler’s total).

You see, Midgley is largely credited with having invented (or at least popularizing) tetraethyl lead (TEL), mentioned before as leaded gasoline, in 1921. TEL was a fuel additive that eliminated car engine “knocking” problems, whilst increasing fuel efficiency. Needless to say, the shit became a worldwide, industrial phenomenon and an atmospheric calamity of biblical proportions—and Midgley won more medals of honor than Colonel Nathan R. Jessup and Jesse Owens combined.

Thomas Midgley was an evil, evil man. He knew all too well the dangers of lead exposure, but he staunchly erred on the side of fame and power, often to his own detriment. For example, to dispel the “myths” of tetraethyl lead’s hazards, and to exert some damage control after a TEL plant produced 5 worker deaths and even more cases of lead-induced madness in its first 2 months of operation, Midgley called a press conference to demonstrate the “safety” of contact with TEL. In this demonstration, he poured TEL over his hands, then placed a bottle of the chemical under his nose and breathed it in for 60 seconds, insisting he could do this everyday without succumbing to a single problem. What he didn’t tell reporters after is, it took him nearly a year to recover from the poisoning brought on by this stunt.

Personally (and on behalf of planet Earth) I wish he had died that day, because a few years later (1930) Midgley went on to invent chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—which he and Kinetic Chemical Company (a little mom ‘n pop merger between Du Pont and General Motors) lovingly called “Freon.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Hint:  carcinogenic refrigerant and aerosol propellant that infamously destroyed a substantial section of Earth’s ozone layer, before it was phased out in 1996. Yes, that’s the one. Talk about a one-two punch for Midgley (and General Motors, Du Pont and Standard Oil, of course [the three tree-hugging principal developers of TEL]), and a hemorrhaging KO of the environment. Awfully impressive.

Beyond recent times, lead has played its significant role in earlier history, too. Lead poisoning is often cited as one of the primary contributors to the downfall of the Roman Empire (where it was extensively used and ingested for 800 years; in fact, Roman water pipes and plumbing were often made of lead; hence lead’s element symbol Pb, an abbreviation for the Latin plumbum, from which “plumbing” and “plumber’s crack” derive their names).

As commonplace and influential as lead is in our lives, there’s actually no known safe threshold of it. Zilch. It is a poison to the blood, period.

We’re through the looking glass here, people.

Let’s move on, shall we?

~ by zactopia on March 31, 2010.

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