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Lead Additives

In 1921, three General Motors engineers reported that adding a compound called tetraethyl lead to gasoline could quiet pinging motors and boost engine performance. Within two years the United States was pumping millions of gallons of leaded fuel into automobiles.

In 1923 one of the General Motors engineers involved in developing leaded gas, a man named Thomas Midgley, spent several weeks fighting a severe illness. His condition was found to be related to lead exposure from his experiments with concentrated doses of liquid lead. During the next year, as many as fifteen workers who helped produce the additive in refineries in Ohio and New Jersey fell sick and died. In most cases, mental derangement preceded death, and many of the workers died in straightjackets. Nearly 300 workers from three plants were pronounced psychotic, and workers and journalists soon began to call leaded fuel "loony gas." For the next six decades, as many as 5,000 Americans died every year from lead poisoning, according to a 1995 EPA report. (reference)

See also: Lead additives, Lead as toxic element, Beethoven, Home lead poisoning, Lead in history, Lead letter, Occupational disease, Toxic effects, Toxicology