All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

Do you want leaded or unleaded, sir?

John Marshall / Red Dirt Report
Over 200 metric tons of lead per year were spewed from exhaust pipes in the late 60’s. Exhaust is unnoticeable from this modern car using unleaded gas.
Fertile Ground Compost Service

OKLAHOMA CITY – Have you ever wondered why that uncle, politician, friend, or journalist who might be getting older has behavior problems? What we consider the normal aging process might be the long-term effects of a powerful neurotoxin.

If you remember the introduction of unleaded gasoline, you were most likely one of the many millions of Americans who was exposed to lead levels that would be cause for extreme measures in today's environment.

For decades, up to the final elimination of leaded gasoline in 1996, lead was used in gasoline to boost octane and help our cars run smoother. This created the perfect system for distributing lead.

Lead use in gasoline peaked in 1969 when more than 200,000 tons of the heavy metal was exhausted into the atmosphere. The modern day question is where did all that lead go?

For years, many Americans were exposed to levels that were off the charts by today’s standards.

From the Environmental Protection Agency now controlled by Oklahoma’s own Scott Pruitt their website states, “As a result of EPA's regulatory efforts including the removal of lead from motor vehicle gasoline, levels of lead in the air decreased by 98 percent between 1980 and 2014.”

According to Susan Quigley, Program Manager for the Oklahoma Childhood Lead Poisoning and Prevention Program, these levels in the human body could have exceeded 60 micrograms per deciliter of blood. She said that there is no acceptable level of lead in the human body.

“We know this causes brain damage and reduces IQ, we have correlated that crime and lead are tied together. The part of the brain that affects impulse control is affected by lead,” Quigley said.

She agreed with data that suggests lead is deposited in the bones over long exposure periods and then slowly leaches out over decades. She said there is strong evidence that Early Onset Dementia can be the result of lead exposure. She also mentioned Osteoporosis and any bone degeneration could release lead that had stayed trapped in our bones for years.

She explained that the data is not as definite as we would like since we are exposed to other environmental hazards as we grew up.

There are other cognitive issues, and high blood pressure has been seen with long-term lead exposure, Quigley explained.

Talking about her childhood, she said, “They were not looking at the blood levels in the 50’s and 60’s. Had I gone to the doctor when I was growing up and had a level of 35, it would have been alright. Today we would be going out and doing an investigation in that home to look for the source of the exposure. We would be monitoring my blood levels every two to three months and different things would happen.”

Quigley explained we are not getting much testing in 2017 because we think the leaded gasoline problem has been solved, we are suffering from that success, lead is still in the environment in one way or the other.

We can be exposed through the workplace or living in an older home. “You see bridges being repaired these days,” she said. Explaining that many of those structures were built and painted decades ago with lead-based paints and as they strip them for repainting, workers and all nearby are exposed to dangerous levels of atmospheric lead.

So the next time some older person starts a rant at your expense, you might try cutting them a little slack.

Enjoy this? Please share it!

Help support Red Dirt Report

About the Author

John Marshall

John Marshall is a videographer and new addition to Red Dirt Report. As he told us: I am...

read more

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

Member of the Oklahoma Press Association
Member of Investigative Reporters & Editors
Member of Diversity Business Association
Member of Uptown 23rd

Rotary Club of Bricktown OKC
Keep it Local OK