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View Diary: How regulation came to be: Filling it up with Ethyl (84 comments)

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  •  Not Just Catalytic Converters! (25+ / 0-)

    I was involved in the EPA studies that resulted in the phase-out and eventual banning of leaded gasoline.  At that time, the lead industry had a major disinformation campaign underway claiming that valve seats on older engines would be damaged by using unleaded gasoline.  It was my job to look into that and other effects.  SAE Paper No. 860090 is a review of the good and (mostly) bad effects of lead on vehicles.

    My review showed that when engines were operated at high load for long periods, the oxide on the valve seat could wear away, allowing the valve to micro-weld to the seat when it banged down, and then jerking loose microscopic pieces of the seat when it pushed back up.  Once it started, this "valve seat recession" would destroy the cylinder head in short order.  Lead deposits on the valve seat acted like flour on a pastry board, keeping the valve from sticking.  So far, that's what the industry had been claiming.  However, my review further documented that this was ONLY a problem if you ran the engine continuously at high speed and load for a long time -- that is, in formula 1 racing or dynamometer testing, but not in typical automotive service.  In fact, I was able to show that quite a few organizations (including the U.S. Army!) had already shifted all of their older vehicles to unleaded gasoline, as it was too much trouble to provide both leaded fuel for the old and unleaded fuel for the newer vehicles.  

    My review ALSO showed that lead oxide deposits formed on spark plugs, corroding them and shorting them out, and on exhaust valve seats.  Channels formed in the deposits would allow exhaust gas to leak out during combustion, damaging the valve.  To combat these deposits, chlorine and bromine compounds were used in addition to TEL, in a mixture called "motor mix".  The chlorine and bromine helped scavenge the lead deposits, but also formed acids in the oil (reducing oil life), and corroded exhaust pipes.  Overall, the engine and vehicle damage due to the lead additives was much more important than the valve seat recession issue.

    While I was looking into the engine issues, an EPA staffer named Joel Schwarz (now a fomer McArthur fellow at Harvard School of Public Health) was doing epidemiologic studies of lead impacts on health.  He found that it was MUCH worse than previously thought, at blood lead levels that had previously been considered safe.  The main impacts were mental retardation, deafness, and other neurological problems in children, and high blood pressure in adults -- leading to stroke and heart attacks.  

    When the Reagan administration came into office, they trumpeted their plans to apply cost-benefit analysis to environmental regulations, and Anne Gorsuch gave a speech to a small refiner's conference where she said that the lead regulations were on their way out.  Then Joel Schwarz and an EPA economist named Hugh Pitcher, published their report showing that the benefits of eliminating lead in gasoline were more than ten times the costs, and the evil bitch was hoist with her own petard.  EPA wound up adopting regulations that dropped the lead content down to 0.1 gram per gallon very quickly, then eliminated it entirely ten years later.

    Average blood lead levels in the U.S. and other countries have come down dramatically with the elimination of leaded gasoline.  A large part of the drop in heart attacks since the '70s is now thought to be due to lower blood lead concentrations.

    Since the work in the U.S., I've been able to contribute to government decisions to phase out lead in five other countries: Thailand, Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Sri Lanka, and I wrote a report for USAID on why and how countries should ban lead in their gasoline.  The arguments in each case were the same -- "but the lead companies tell us that the unleaded gas will damage the older engines!"  In none of these cases was there actually any widespread engine damage due to unleaded fuel.  

    "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right" -- Sen. (and Major General) Carl Schurz, 1872

    by Diesel Kitty on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 12:56:47 AM PST

    •  Wow! Fantastic first-person... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WI Deadhead, hopeful, lineatus

      ...account!  Thanks for sharing.  This clears up a lot of muddiness I had from the source I read for this.  Thanks for sharing!

      We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Justice Louis D. Brandeis

      by dsteffen on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 03:50:52 AM PST

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    •  Thank you- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, dsteffen

      ..for both your comment and your work.

      We are not given mercy because we deserve it, but because we need it.

      by Ahianne on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 05:13:01 AM PST

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    •  The mechanic who did the regular service to my (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bobinson, G2geek, dsteffen

      '71 Ford had me add a shot glass of transmission fluid to the tank each time I filled up to counteract what he'd been told were the harmful effects of low-lead gas (valve stem damage).

      I probably did that for two or three years (starting around '75 or '76 IIRC) before everyone figured out it was a load of BS.

      I never looked into it, but I wonder now if STP and other additives were marketed as some kind of lead-replacement panacea at the time.

      CPAC: regressive genetics working overtime.

      by here4tehbeer on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 08:55:36 AM PST

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      •  Yes, a lot of additives (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bobinson, G2geek, dsteffen

        were marketed that way.  Most of them used metal-containing lube-oil additives like calcium sulfonate, but some entrepreneurs also sold high-lead racing gasoline (racing fuel was exempt from the ban) in a can, at high prices -- until they were caught.  One of the brand names, as I recall was RealLead.

        "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right" -- Sen. (and Major General) Carl Schurz, 1872

        by Diesel Kitty on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 09:36:29 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  so how is it that we don't ban lead from all.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dsteffen, JeffW

      .... applications where humans might come into contact with it?  

      Seems to me you can still buy lead solder (there are substitutes), lead fishing weights (ditto), and perhaps worst of all, there is still lead used in PLUMBING FIXTURES that people install in their houses.  So unless you let the water run before using it (thereby wasting water), you might be drinking or showering with or cooking with water that has sat in a faucet that contains lead, thereby leaching some of the lead into the water.

      I'd sooner have something in the water that made my "male attributes" stop working, than something in the water that damaged my brain.  

      So the question is, how can one find lead-free plumbing fixtures?  Is there a label or something?  Are manufacturers supposed to disclose one way or the other?   Or does someone maintain a list that can be looked up?

      •  Well, there are ways to tell the difference (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dsteffen

        Lead solder for drinking water systems was phased out in new work plumbing in the 80s.  There may be old coils of tin-lead still sitting in toolboxes that are that old, but the new stuff doesn't have the same high lead content as the old low-temp solders did.

        There are new standards for "lead-free" fixtures (made with very, very low lead content) that you can look for from some manufacturers to meet recent state laws in CA and VT.  You are supposed to be able to look for a NSF certification on the packaging that shows compliance with the state standards.  Linky

        "I'm not a humanitarian. I'm a hell-raiser." Mother Jones

        by histopresto on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 12:09:06 PM PST

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        •  very cool, i will keep that in mind. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dsteffen

          I expect to be building a little nest in a couple of years, at which point I'm going to take every reasonable step for sustainable design & construction, including keeping the lead and other neurotoxic nasties out of the water.  

          Thanks!

      •  Lead Solder is pretty much gone (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek, dsteffen

        Under new European ROHS rules, solder must be lead free, which has pretty much caused electronic manufacturers to go to lead-free soldering worldwide.  California requires most electronics to comply with the ROHS standard, apparently the rest of the U.S. does not.  That surprised me -- if you look online at Allied electronics, almost everything is ROHS compliant.

        Re plumbing fixtures --  here's environmental horror story from Egypt.  While I was working on automotive emissions in Cairo for USAID, some of my colleagues were working to replace small-scale battery recycling operations with a modern facility.  The existing operations were very low-tech -- they'd buy local auto batteries and auto batteries smuggled from outside Egypt, chop them open with axes, letting the acid run out onto the ground, and then melt down the lead plates in open cauldrons.  No emission control of any kind, which meant that the whole neighborhood was covered with toxic dust.  The people who worked in these smelters had very short life expectancy, as you can imagine.  Worst of all, my understanding is that the main product of these environmental abominations were lead water pipes.

        Not all of the U.S. aid money went into buying tanks and tear gas for the dictator -- quite a lot was actually used constructively.  According to this  USAID link ,  the lead smelter project was successful.  Alhamdilla!

        "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right" -- Sen. (and Major General) Carl Schurz, 1872

        by Diesel Kitty on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 06:13:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yow. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dsteffen

          Seems to me that the entire world should agree to ban all uses of lead that are not absolutely essential, and regulate the hell out of the ones that are.  As for batteries there are substitute technologies.  

          OTOH, natural selection at work.  Terrible thing to say, but nature does not pick favorites, and we can't choose our facts.

          This is what decline & fall looks like.  And to think, the 21st Century was supposed to be "the future," with all that implies.  

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