For about two years, there was a legal right to poison. From 1974, when a panel from the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals created their license to mass murder, until 1976 when the full court reversed the decision, it had been the law of the land in America that the EPA could not ban a substance based on credible scientific evidence that it posed a risk to the lives of thousands of Americans. You had to wait until the toxic risk had been proved. In other words, until EPA had counted enough certified dead bodies. There was no way to stop the sale of leaded gasoline.
By the time the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of the Appeals Court decision against lead, and steps were taken over the next decade to stop its sale in America, leaded gas (ethyl as it was widely known after its leading manufacturer) had taken its toll. During the leaded gas era (1924 to 1986) tens of thousands of adults died of lead-related heart attacks, and for children, a medical researcher Dr. Sergio Piomelli told our guest Jamie Lincoln Kitman that there was a clear before and after. “Before the U.S. lead phaseout began, 30,000 out of 100,000 New York City children tested had elevated lead levels; after the phaseout was complete, 1,500 of 100,000 had similarly high levels.”
That was back in the year 2000, when Jamie published his award-winning investigative report on leaded gasoline in The Nation. Lead levels in children in New York City and elsewhere in America have continued to decline. That’s the very good news. Here’s the worrying news – That 2000 concept of elevated levels of lead in the blood was based on what was then believed to be a safe level. Today, 18 years later, the scientific consensus is there is no safe level…all lead in the blood is bad for you, and worst for children.
Today, lead remains embedded in the global environment, especially in Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America where leaded gas is still in use.
All of which brings us to brominated fire retardants, the subject of Jamie Lincoln Kitman’s latest investigative report in The Nation which was entitled simply “Worse Than Lead.”
The narratives for lead and bromine are remarkably similar. The people making them knew they were toxic. They knew there were safer alternatives to them, but they sold and distributed them widely so that they contaminate many consumer products and human bodies, not to mention the global environment.
When it comes to brominated flame retardants, a recent estimate suggested that as many as 97 percent of Americans have toxic ingredients from them in their blood. Oh, and these ingredients have been shown to be deeply poisonous – linked to cancer, genetic damage, and behavioral and learning difficulties.
But help is on the way…from terrific investigative reporting like Jamie’s, and earlier this month, from the state of California where, for the first time anywhere, the use of some flame retardants on some products, like children’s pajamas and mattresses has been banned.
Jamie Lincoln Kitman, New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine, won an investigative reporting award from Investigative Reporters and Editors for his Nation article on the secret history of leaded gasoline. He’s based in New York City.
Jamie Kitman’s personality was evidently arrested at the age of 12, for though he was trained as a lawyer (and remains a member of the New York and New Jersey bars), he earns his living writing about cars and managing the careers of rock musicians. He is the New York bureau chief at Automobile Magazine, where he is also a longtime columnist; he is the car guy for GQ; and a contributor to The Nation, The Washington Post, Harper’s, Foreign Policy, Top Gear and CAR magazines. He calls his proudest achievement writing the very first anti-SUV op-ed piece in the New York Times in 1994.
Jamie’s also the manager of alternative rock artists like They Might Be Giants, OK Go, Mike Doughty and Mike Viola, and he has worked with diverse acts including The La’s, Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets, Pere Ubu and Yo La Tengo. How does he split his time? Kitman, the father of three children, explains that eighty percent of his time is spent managing bands and the other eighty percent writing. “Cars, music and magazines, what could be better? Three dying industries mean threes time the work and half the fun,” Kitman notes, “but somehow it all adds up. Even if my accountant disagrees.”
The winner of numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for commentary, and an IRE Award for investigative magazine reporting, Jamie’s currently writing a book about the history of lead in gasoline.