|The Ethyl Controversy
quotes and comments
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, Roman engineer, 1st century BC
We can take example by the workers in lead who have complexions affected by pallor. For when, in casting, the lead receives the current of air, the fumes from it occupy the members of the body, and burning them thereon, rob the limbs of the virtues of the blood. Therefore it seems that water should not be brought in lead pipes if we desire to have it wholesome.
Jerome Niragu, Toxicologist on Roman lead poisoning , 1983
[Sapa was a syrup made from pressed grapes held in lead-lined vats. The treatment made the grapes taste sweet. ] One teaspoonful of sapa per day could cause chronic lead poisoning, and countless Romans would have consumed more than this dosage from their foods and drinks. ... The Roman fondness for sweet and sour flavors is well known, and the cooks made common use of the cheap ... sapa in their sauces and seasonings to assuage the appetites of their patrons."
Lawrence E. Blanchard, Jr., Ethyl Corp., on Roman lead poisoning. 1971
The clincher by all prophets of doom is that someone started the rumor that lead was the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire... The legend always gets fuzzy -- sometimes it is caused by lead-lined aqueducts, other times it is from their wine being drunk from lead-lined flasks.
Bernardo Ramazzini, Physician, 1700
The skin [of lead workers] is apt to bear the same color of the metal ... Demons and ghosts are often found to disturb the miners."
Benjamin Franklin, Printer,1786
The Opinion of the mischievous Effect from Lead is at least above Sixty Years old, and you will observe with Concern how long a useful Truth may be known and exist before it is generally receiv'd and practic'd on.
Charles Turner Thackrah, Physician, 1831
Could not the (pottery glazing) process be effected without the immersion of the hands in the metallic solution? Or could it not be effected by a machine? Or could not some article less noxious be substituted for the lead? I am told, but an intelligent manufacturer of eathenware in Leeds, that the comparative cheapness of the leaden glaze is the chief recommendation. Surely humanity forbids that the health of woerkmen, and that of the poor at large, should be sacrificed t o the saving of halfpence in the price of pots.
Charles Dickins, Writer, 1845
I saw a horrible brown heap on the floor in the corner, which, but for previous experience in this dismal wise, I might not have suspected to be 'the bed.' There was something thrown upon it and I asked what it was.
'Tis the poor craythur that stays here, sur; and 'tis very bad she is, 'tis very bad shes been this long time, and 'tis better she'll never be ... and 'tis the lead, sur.'
'The lead, sur. Sure, 'tis the lead-mills, where women gets took on at 18 pence a day, sur, when they makes application early enough, and is lucky and wanted; and 'tis lead pisoned she is, sur, and some of them gets lead pisoned soon, and some of them gets lead pisoned later, and some but not many, niver; and 'tis all according to the constitooshun, sur, and some constitooshuns is strong, and some is weak, and her constitooshun is lead pisoned, bad as can be, sur ... '
Scientific American, 1857
It is remarkable that this metal (lead), when dissolved in an acid, has the property of imparting a saccharine taste to the fluid. Thus the common acetate of lead is always called 'sugar of lead.' It was perhaps on this account that the Greeks and Romans used sheet lead to neutralize the acidity of bad wine -- a practice which now is happily not in use since it has been found that all combinations of lead are decidedly poisonous.
Alice Hamilton, M.D., Harvard University, 1910 Bureau of Labor study
Working conditions in the lead industries were "equal to those described by French authorities of the early 19th century....[Conditions were] so dangerous ... that they would be closed by law in any European country.
Thomas Midgley, General Motors, May 23, 1922
Unquestionably alcohol is the fuel of the future and is playing its part in tropical countries ... Alcohol can be produced in those countries for approximately 7 - 1/2 cents per gallon from many .. sources.
Thomas Midgley and T.A. Boyd, SAE presentation, June, 1922
That the addition of benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons to paraffin base gasoline greatly reduces the tendency of these fuels to detonate [knock] ... has been known for some time. Also, it is well known that alcohol ... improves the combustion characteristics of the fuel ...The scarcity and high cost of gasoline in countries where sugar is produced and the abundance of raw materials for making alcohol there has resulted in a rather extensive use of alcohol for motor fuel. As the reserves of petroleum in this country become more and more depleted, the use of benzene and particularly of alcohol in commercial motor fuels will probably become greatly extended. ( Note: italics indicate a sentence used at the oral presentation at a June 1922 SAE meeting but cut from the SAE Journal, June 1922, page 451; The oral presentation is from Midgley unprocessed files, GMI Archives).
Thomas Midgley, April 7, 1925
So far as science knows at the present time, tetraethyl lead is the only material available which can bring about these [antiknock] results, which are of vital importance to the continued economic use by the general public of all automotive equipment, and unless a grave and inescapable hazard exists in the manufacture of tetraethyl lead, its abandonment cannot be justified.
Charles F. Kettering, May 20, 1925 to the US Surgeon General's hearing on TEL
We could produce certain [antiknock] results and with the higher gravity gasolines, the aromatic series of compounds, alcohols, etc. [to] get the high compression without the knock, but in the great volume of fuel of the paraffin series [petroleum] we could not do that.
Alice Hamilton, to Kettering, in private, May 20, 1925
You are nothing but a murderer.
Frank Howard, Standard Oil Co., May 20, 1925
The responsibility of ... the Public Health Service is rather simple: Is this a public health hazard? Unfortunately, our problem is not that simple... [On automobiles and oil] our civilization is supposed to depend... Now as a result of 10 years research ... we have this apparent gift of God of three cubic centimeters of tetraethyl lead [which will allow cars to travel 50 to 100 percent further on a gallon of gasoline] "It would be an unheard-of blunder if we should abandon a thing of this kind merely because of our fears."
Grace Burnham, Workers Health Bureau, May 20, 1925
Tetraethyl lead was not a gift of God when those 11 men were killed or 149 men were poisoned... The thing we are interested in, in the long run, is not mechanics or machinery, but men, [and this] is a thing we must bear very carefully in mind in this age of speed and rush and efficiency and machines."
DuPont Corp. Report on Ethyl, 1936
It is also of interest to recall that an important special motive for this [tetraethyl lead] research was General Motors desire to fortify itself against the exhaustion or prohibitive cost of the gasoline supply, which was then believed to be impending in about twenty-five years; the thought being that the high compression motors which should be that time have been brought into general use if knocking could be overcome could more advantageously be switched to [ethyl] alcohol.
Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveler, cited in Niragu, Lead and Lead Poisoning,
Donald Hunter, The Diseases of Occupations (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1955).
C.P McCord, "Lead and Lead Poisoning in Early America: Benjamin Franklin and Lead Poisoning," Ind. Med. Surg. 22, 393-9, cited in Smith, "Lead in History."
Jerome Nriagu, Lead and Lead Poisoning in Antiquity (New York: Wiley Interscience, 1983)
Marjorie Smith, "Lead in History," eds. Richard Lansdown and William Yule, Lead Toxicity: History and Environmental Impact, (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).
U.S. Public Health Service, Proceedings of a Conference to Determine Whether or Not There is a Public Health Question in the Manufacture, Distribution or use of Tetraethyl Lead Gasoline, PHS Bulletin No. 158, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Treasury Dept., published August 1925).