The politics of lead toxicology and the devastating consequences for children

Am J Ind Med. 2007 Oct;50(10):740-56. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20435.


At virtually every step in the history of the uncovering of lead's toxic qualities, resistance was shown by a variety of industrial interests to the association of lead and toxicity. During the first half of the last century, three primary means were used to undermine the growing body of evidence: first, the lead industry sought to control lead research by sponsoring and funding university research. In the 1920s, the General Motors Company, with the aide of DuPont and Standard Oil Companies, established the Kettering Labs, a research unit at the University of Cincinnati which, for many decades was largely supported by industry funds. In the same decade, the lead industry sponsored the research of Joseph Aub at Harvard who worked on neurophysiology of lead. A second way was to shape our understanding of lead itself, portraying it as an indispensable and healthful element essential for all modern life. Lead was portrayed as safe for children to use, be around, and even touch. The third way that lead was exempted from the normal public health measures and regulatory apparatus that had largely controlled phosphorus poisoning, poor quality food and meats and other potential public health hazards was more insidious and involved directly influencing the scientific integrity of the clinical observations and research. Throughout the past century tremendous pressure by the lead industry itself was brought to bear to quiet, even intimidate, researchers and clinicians who reported on or identified lead as a hazard. This article will draw on our previous work and add new documentation of the trajectory of industry attempts to keep out of the public view the tremendous threat of lead poisoning to children.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advertising
  • Chemical Industry* / economics
  • Chemical Industry* / ethics
  • Chemical Industry* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Health Policy / history
  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Lead / adverse effects*
  • Lead Poisoning, Nervous System, Childhood* / history
  • Lead Poisoning, Nervous System, Childhood* / prevention & control
  • Lobbying
  • Paint / adverse effects*
  • Paint / analysis
  • Paint / history
  • Politics
  • Public Health / history
  • Research Support as Topic / economics
  • Research Support as Topic / ethics
  • United States


  • Lead