The case against lead


“Mad as a hatter,” went the expression. Alice’s tea party featured “The Mad Hatter,” whose felting work involved prolonged exposure to mercury vapors, resulting in tremors, pathological shyness and irritability.

We still hear a lot about asbestos – it remains on the radar of most Americans, simply because there’s still a lot of it out there in old buildings, and many times a large abatement project will pop up on the news.

We hear less about lead and lead poisoning, however, since lead-based paint was banned in the US in 1978; before that, many children developed signs of lead poisoning, particularly inner-city kids who would ingest paint flakes that had lead added. Lead was completely eliminated from automotive fuels by 1996.

But it appears that lead is still a serious threat; effects of past exposure may include an increase in crime rates, and current exposure through shooting ranges threatens to continue the negative consequences.

Gathered here are a number of articles which should be read and considered, particularly by anyone who works around ammunition; sportspeople, shooters, law-enforcement officers, reloaders, and the like. It is up to the individual to make their own assessments, but from where I sit, it would not be unreasonable to lay at least partial blame for the seeming descent of our society into madness and uncivility on the pervasiveness of lead in our environment.

Read and judge.


Clair Cameron Patterson. From the Wikipedia article:

Patterson had first encountered lead contamination in the late 1940s as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. His work on this led to a total re-evaluation of the growth in industrial lead concentrations in the atmosphere and the human body, and his subsequent campaigning was seminal in the banning of tetraethyllead ingasoline, and lead solder in food cans.

Patterson met significant opposition for his views, particularly from people such as Robert A. Kehoe, the principal advocate for the use of tetraethyllead as an anti-knock agent in gasoline. In contrast to the “Precautionary Principle” which assumes that there is potential risk to a substance unless proven otherwise, Kehoe claimed that “in the absence of clear evidence of risk there is no risk of significance.” This later came to be called the Kehoe Paradigm, and is essentially the same cognitive dissonance used by tobacco executives in their fight to convince the world that their product was not harmful.


Robert A. Kehoe

At The Nation, an article entitled “The Secret History of Lead.”

At The Atlantic, a treatise on how the lead industry convinced the public and the media that parents were to blame rather than the toxic substance that they were profiting from:

The lead industry even claimed that the problem was not with the paint but with the “uneducable Negro and Puerto Rican” parents who “failed” to stop children from placing their fingers and toys in their mouths.

Recently, a four-part investigative series at the Seattle Times: “Lead poisoning is a major threat at America’s shooting ranges, perpetuated by owners who’ve repeatedly violated laws even after workers have fallen painfully ill.”

And lastly, an essay at Mother Jones linking gasoline lead to a rise in violent crime. This article does its best to be balanced and rational rather than sensationalistic, and deserves to be considered.


One pound of lead. The CDC has set the standard elevated blood lead level for adults to be 10 µg/dl of the whole blood. This means that one pound of lead is sufficient to elevate lead levels of 8,247,134 adults. This stuff is rutting toxic.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot more research would need to be done over time to gain further insight into these ideas. But one thing is clear – people who work at or around shooting ranges need to be extra, extra careful and consider possible ramifications of their exposure to lead.

The Old Wolf has spoken.