How We Got Here: How Lead Poisoning Rewired America | Crooked Media
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February 17, 2024
What A Day
How We Got Here: How Lead Poisoning Rewired America

In This Episode

What do the 1970s crime wave, the endangerment of the California condor, and Gen Xers demanding to speak to the manager have in common? There’s a compelling case that all are exacerbated by lead exposure. This week How We Got Here unpacks the long and sordid story of how lead found its way into gasoline…and the organs of many Americans. But gas is just the tip of the iceberg—we still see lead in consumer products today, from drinking water to baby food to Stanley Cups. Why do we still use this poisonous metal? What does it do to our brains? And who does it impact the most? Hysteria’s Erin Ryan and Offline’s Max Fisher unpack what lead us to this point.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Erin Ryan: Here’s a riddle for you, Max. What do the 1970s crime wave, the extinction of the California condor, rowdy crowds at NASCAR races and gen-Xers demanding to speak to the manager have in common? 

 

Max Fisher: [laugh] Um. Are they all things caused by Republican governors of California? 

 

Erin Ryan: That is a really good guess uh but no, Arnold Schwarzenegger has nothing to do with these things. There’s a compelling case that all of these things are caused, at least in part, by lead. [music break]

 

Max Fisher: So lead has been the star of a few news stories this week. There’s a panic over lead in the insulation of Stanley Mugs, the trendiest beverage accessory since [?], and the CDC reported more than 400 possible cases of lead poisoning in babies and toddlers from tainted applesauce pouches. Is that what this is about? 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, so the mugs are probably fine, but the applesauce situation is bad and getting worse, though we’ll come back to that. In order to understand the panic around these stories, I wanted to talk about lead. I have been obsessed with it. 

 

Max Fisher: You have been obsessed with lead.

 

Erin Ryan: For years, I do not shut up about lead, but the more research I read on it, the more I feel like it could explain why America is the way it is. And the alarm over Stanley mugs, while misplaced, is both a reminder that lead is everywhere and has been for decades and a sign to me that I’m not alone in thinking that lead has a lot to answer for. Max, have you seen these TikTok videos about the lead stare? 

 

[clip of TikTok video about lead stare] I love the lead poisoning stare that boomers give you, and I especially like it if they don’t like something about you, like your physical appearance, something that you’re wearing, whatever. They just point it out, they don’t say it’s good or bad, they just point it out, and then they just stare at you. What’s going on behind those two eyes? Because I really can’t fucking tell. 

 

Max Fisher: So could it really be true that an entire generation is quietly suffering from lead poisoning? 

 

Erin Ryan: Quietly is doing a lot of liftng [laughter] in that sentence, right? Well, the memeification of lead poisoning glosses over the serious and widespread implications of what happens when entire generations are doused in a neurotoxin. I hate to be a Debbie Downer. This week we’re talking about the miracle element/poison that we spewed into American air for 50 years, and the ways that those fumes may have harmed two entire generations that were exposed to them. I’m Erin Ryan. 

 

Max Fisher: I’m Max Fisher. 

 

Erin Ryan: And this is How We Got Here, a new What a Day series where Max and I explore a big question behind the week’s headlines and tell a story that answers that question. 

 

Max Fisher: Our question this week, did lead poisoning change America? And is it still?

 

Erin Ryan: Okay. So the story I want to tell you is about this stretch of time, mostly from the 1930s to the ’80s, where basically every car in America was churning lead into the atmosphere and what that did to us. So, Max, at the center of all this is a sound, a troublesome sound that automakers wanted to do something about. It was called engine knocking. 

 

Max Fisher: Anything with cars more complicated than the door handle is kind of a mystery to me. So you’ll have to explain that. 

 

Erin Ryan: Some door handles are actually a challenge to me, so I may not be the best example. 

 

Max Fisher: I appreciate that. 

 

Erin Ryan: So a combustion engine works by all these little explosions, pushing cylinders at the exact right moment in a cycle. Knocking is when the explosions ignite early and you get that popping sound. [sound of car engine turning over] It reduces efficiency and can damage the engine over the long term. It used to be a common problem, but in 1921, automakers discovered that putting lead in the fuel fixed it. 

 

Max Fisher: So we should say that while many harms from lead weren’t understood until decades after this, Detroit knew at the time that this was dangerous. The guy who invented leaded gasoline was actually incapacitated with lead poisoning, and a few of the workers at the first leaded gasoline plant died. 

 

Erin Ryan: That’s called pulling a Marie Curie. [laugh] Lead has been used for centuries because it’s malleable, durable, and non corrosive. It makes colors brighter. So it’s great for paint and cosmetics. Um. Except, you know, probably don’t want to put it on your face because it’s lead. 

 

Max Fisher: It’s a poison. 

 

Erin Ryan: It’s a poison. Um. But it’s still in car batteries. It’s in electronics, manufacturing byproducts and technology, including your laptop and your phone. 

 

Max Fisher: Whoa. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah. 

 

Max Fisher: I have those things on me right now. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yes. You’ve got lead less than two feet from you right now. In the Roman Empire, rich people’s houses had lead pipes, and they drink wine out of lead chalices because it made it taste better. Lead is so durable that some of those lead pipes are still functional today. 

 

Max Fisher: Do we think that lead is better with white wines or reds? 

 

Erin Ryan: Well, actually, unfortunately for a lot of people, lead has a sweet taste to it. But we shouldn’t joke. Don’t don’t drink lead. 

 

Max Fisher: Don’t drink lead. 

 

Erin Ryan: Don’t do it. The Romans were actually so nuts for lead that it’s chemical symbol Pb, derived from the Latin word plumb bum, which means plumbing. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh huh, I love a good etymology fact. 

 

Erin Ryan: Same. Anyway, this is all to say that the Romans knew lead could be both useful and harmful. People outside of Rome have known since at least as early as the second century BCE, when a Greek physician named Dioscorides, which is spelled disco rides. 

 

Max Fisher: That’s so cool. 

 

Erin Ryan: Noted that lead makes the mind give way. Doctors in the 1700s also recorded artisans working with pottery and paint, experiencing lead poisoning. And today, actually, if you work with pottery, you got to be careful. 

 

Max Fisher: Really? 

 

Erin Ryan: Because you have a higher risk of being exposed to lead. 

 

Max Fisher: Wow. So this stuff is everywhere. 

 

Erin Ryan: From throwing pots. It is. But until the modern era, most cases of lead poisoning were found among people who were occupationally exposed. It wasn’t something that could just happen to a person going about their life, and even now, it’s only really dangerous if it gets inside your body. 

 

Max Fisher: So putting on the lead smock to get X-rayed at the dentist is fine. 

 

Erin Ryan: That’s what they’re telling us, and I hope they’re telling us the truth. No, it should be fine. But the lead in the circuit board of your computer also fine. It’s protecting you from radiation. Um. But unfortunately, once lead gets inside your body, it doesn’t like to leave. 

 

Max Fisher: Hmm. 

 

Erin Ryan: So when automakers and energy companies start by the 1930s, designing everything around leaded gasoline, they know they’re pumping it into the air. It becomes this big science experiment. What happens when pretty much all of America starts absorbing something that we’ve known for hundreds of years to be toxic into their lungs and bloodstreams? Better put on my leadened thinking cap for that one. 

 

Max Fisher: [laugh] Okay, so I see where this is going. You’re getting ready to talk about that famous chart. Let’s pull it up real quick. Uh. Okay. So this chart, which economists love to show you, it has two lines. One line shows the amount of lead in the atmosphere over time. And the line starts very low in the 1930s right around zero. But then it rises and rises as Americans drive more cars and pump more of that fancy new leaded gasoline into the air. Then the line starts to turn and it starts to drop back down and decline in the late ’70s, when the EPA passes all these regulations to limit air pollution and it keeps dropping into the 80s, we removed lead from gasoline and it finally gets near zero in the mid ’90s. 

 

Erin Ryan: Right. It looks like an upside down U, or an N without a stick on the side. The amount of lead in the air goes up and then it goes down. 

 

Max Fisher: So then the other line in this famous chart shows the violent crime rate over time. And what do you know? The line charting violent crime looks exactly like the line charting lead in the atmosphere, except every dip and rise in the lead pollution line corresponds to an almost identical dip in rise in the violent crime line 23 years later. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, as if the people who ingested lead as children in, say, the 1940s then grew up to commit violent crimes in the 1960s, the more lead, the more violent crimes 23 years later. It’s called the lead crime hypothesis. That’s why, for example, there were so many absolutely bonkers serial killers operating in the 1960s through the 1980s. 

 

Max Fisher: Whoa! Because of lead. 

 

Erin Ryan: Because of lead. So goes the hypothesis. 

 

Max Fisher: So so is the theory. 

 

Erin Ryan: To make matters worse, at the same time, lead paint was fairly ubiquitous in American homes up until it was banned from indoor use in 1978. In some places, it was banned before. Baltimore banned it in 1951. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh! Baltimore leading the way. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah. Leading the way of not being lead poisoned. [laughter] Uh. So in addition to breathing lead fumes, many American children grew up in houses covered in an element that if that paint got eroded into dust, or some other form that could be ingested could lead to all kinds of bad health outcomes. 

 

Max Fisher: So I always assumed that this idea the, you know, the lead crime hypothesis, as I call it. This famous chart, it’s one of those things that at first blush like it looks like a slam dunk. Lead causes violent crimes. Like lead goes up, crime goes up. But that on examination, it would kind of fall apart or would turn out to be a coincidence or it’s correlation without causation or something like that? 

 

Erin Ryan: I think this is actually the opposite of that. So yes, the rise and fall of violent crime in America, which peaked in the early 1970s, had a lot of causes. We can’t just put this all on lead. But the more research we get on those peak lead years from about 1950 to 1980, the more damning it looks. The guy who first identified this link, an economist named Rick Nevin, looked at the data for a bunch of other countries, too, and he found the same thing. Lead in the air went up, violent crime went up. About 20 or so years later, light in the air went down, so did violent crime. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh wow. 

 

Erin Ryan: Another economist, Jessica [?] also checked this by looking at the state level, since different states had different emission requirements for cars and found the same thing. She even found that when air quality improved slowly or quickly, crime later fell at a similar rate. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh. 

 

Erin Ryan: And a 2022 meta analysis of 24 different lead crime hypothesis studies found, quote, “substantial evidence tying exposure to lead to criminal behavior and in particular, violent criminal behavior.” Max, did you know that the average person in 1987 was six times more likely to be victimized by a serial killer than the average person in 2015? Uh. I mean, the entire true crime genre as we know it would be nowhere without engine knock. 

 

Max Fisher: That is wild. Okay, I’m still locking my windows, though. Um. But okay. My big question here is why? Like, I think the thing I am stuck on is why would lead in the air make people more likely to, 20 years later, suddenly stick up a convenience store, get in a bar fight?

 

Erin Ryan: So you need to understand what lead does when it gets into your body. And I apologize in advance because this is disturbing and upsetting. Unfortunately for us, and most carbon based life forms, lead behaves like calcium. 

 

Max Fisher: Huh. 

 

Erin Ryan: Which means it bonds to places where calcium would normally be helpful and mucks up the process. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh so like bones, muscles, oh no and brain matter. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yes, it is a substance that can cause multi systemic issues, everything from cardiovascular disease to chronic kidney failure. It also messes with hormone production and fertility and has been associated with strokes. In general it simply increases mortality. Lead kills you. It erodes a particular substance called myelin that insulates the nerves in your brain so those nerves can communicate. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh, like the insulation around a wire. 

 

Erin Ryan: Right. 

 

Max Fisher: Except in your brain. 

 

Erin Ryan: Exactly. And we do use lead to insulate wires, which is inter– but we shouldn’t be using lead to insulate brain. 

 

Max Fisher: Not our brain wires. 

 

Erin Ryan: Not good brain wire insulation. It also prevents your brain from growing myelin in the first place, which is why lead exposure is so dangerous for kids whose brains are still developing. 

 

Max Fisher: So what happens when you don’t have myelin because of the effects of lead? 

 

Erin Ryan: Your brain works more slowly because those connective wires aren’t protected and it’s less coordinated. So different parts of your brain have trouble talking to each other. And people exposed to lead as children end up as adults with a smaller prefrontal cortex. 

 

Max Fisher: Yikes. Okay, that explains a lot, because you often hear scientists call the prefrontal cortex the part of our brain that distinguishes us from other animals. It’s especially associated with something called executive function, that’s really important. And executive function basically means our ability to control our own behavior, to manage our emotions, to reason, to plan, and to so on, rather than to act on moment to moment impulse. 

 

Erin Ryan: Exactly. The effects of this can be pretty profound. People with even small amounts of childhood lead exposure grow up to be more prone to aggressive behavior. They have higher rates of ADHD. In studies they tend to be less conscientious of others and less agreeable. They’re also more neurotic. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh, those are really significant changes. I feel like the big one I always hear about is the effect on intelligence. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah. People exposed to lead as kids lose about five to eight IQ points. And we’re not talking about some tiny fringe who ate lead paint chips. One study in 2022 estimated that all Americans born in the 1960s and 1970s, when leaded gas was at its peak, lost up to six or seven IQ points. 

 

Max Fisher: So the theory as I understand it, is not that some particular slice of Americans got like radicalized by lead poisoning into becoming criminals. It’s actually a lot scarier that pretty much all Americans born in this 1950 to 1980 period got at least a little lead poisoned, and that made them, on average, a bit less intelligent, more aggressive, and basically less in control of themselves or their emotions. 

 

Erin Ryan: Right. Violent crime is just one worst case outcome for a person exposed to lead during formative years, but everyone was exposed. The CDC now thinks that between 1976 and 1980, 99.8% of children between the ages of one and five had unhealthy amounts of lead in their systems. 

 

Max Fisher: Whoa. 

 

Erin Ryan: And at one point, the average American had 20 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood. Ten micrograms per deciliter is considered an elevated level in adults. 

 

Max Fisher: Wow. 

 

Erin Ryan: Now obviously, 99.8% of Americans born in the late 1970s did not go on to become criminals. But there is still time. [laughter] But the subtler effects of lead poisoning are probably pretty pervasive for them. A lot of these people might be victimized in ways they’re not even aware of. Maybe they have a harder time in school or focusing at work. Or getting along with colleagues or maintaining emotionally healthy relationships. There’s some reason to believe that people with low level lead poisoning are even more prone to getting scammed. 

 

[clip of unspecified news reporter] Anna Werner looks at whether some finance companies have targeted the victims of lead poisoning and left them penniless. 

 

Max Fisher: If you’re telling me that Gen X is the most affected, I feel like that explains a lot about pop culture. Like this adds an interesting element to my ongoing critical analysis of the early catalog of Limp Bizkit. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yes, like violent crime, there were many causes for Limp Bizkit, but we can’t rule out that lead may have been a contributing factor. I mean, you remember the song Break Stuff. 

 

Max Fisher: Let the bodies hit the floor, Erin.

 

Erin Ryan: That’s not Limp Bizkit, but I, we’ll allow it. 

 

Max Fisher: Was this, still implicated um so okay, like you said, America started phasing out leaded gasoline in the 1970s, though it wasn’t totally gone until and this shocked me, 1996. So that was 30 years ago. Is it over? 

 

Erin Ryan: If you were born after 1996, you can breathe a sigh of relief for sure. You’ve got enough to worry about, but being poisoned by lead as a child is probably not one of them. 

 

Max Fisher: Cross that off the list. 

 

Erin Ryan: But knowing how aggressive, antisocial, and unhealthy this makes people through literally no fault of their own, we’re going to be living with the consequences as long as we’re sharing this planet with moderately lead poisoned boomers and severely lead poisoned gen-Xers. Think about the age of elected officials. Think about the age of judges. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh wow. 

 

Erin Ryan: CEOs, decision makers across industries, these people for the most part fall squarely in the lead generation. 

 

Max Fisher: Boy, I can’t wait for our first Oval Office lead stare from President Kid Rock. 

 

Erin Ryan: Don’t even [laughter] speak that into the universe. Ugh!

 

Max Fisher: He’s got some interesting ideas. 

 

Erin Ryan: He sure does. Bawitdaba, right is his economic plan. 

 

Max Fisher: Bawitdaba 2044. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yes. Uh. No. Oh, please no. [music break]

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

Erin Ryan: So lead is saught after because it’s incredibly durable, remember? And as a result it’s a huge pain to get rid of. It has settled into the soil, especially in the car heavy cores of big cities. Max, do you like to guess where schools tend to be built? 

 

Max Fisher: It’s by highways where the lead that soaked into the dirt over decades when we’re using leaded gasoline still gets kicked up and tracked into classrooms, or in the summer when that soil dries up, the lead follows the moisture back into the atmosphere, and we do it all over again. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, and lead contamination still happens in other ways. If you live in a house that was built before 1978, there’s a chance there’s still some lead paint residue lingering around both indoors and out. If you live near a construction or demolition site, or if your water source is polluted and you’re using old lead pipes. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh, you’re thinking about Flint, Michigan, where of course, lead levels spiked in the drinking water starting in 2014. The town, which is predominantly Black, had switched to a new water source but did not take the proper steps to prevent the pipes from corroding. Pipes are made with lead so that corrosion became toxic. 

 

[clip of unspecified Flint, Michigan resident] They kept telling us something was safe and it was revealed that it wasn’t safe. We had to rely on outside agencies to let us know that the water was poisoned, and we already knew it was, but we had to prove it. 

 

Erin Ryan: And of course, what’s happening in Flint is both outrageous in itself and a symbol of the ways that racial disparities and wealth disparities in things like health and access to education get worsened even more, because they’re also disproportionately affected by these sorts of pollutants. And this is still a global issue. You know, we phased out lead in our gasoline, but there are parts of the world where lead is still used in a lot of manufacturing. 

 

Max Fisher: Huge parts. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah. China, they’re still using lead in paint. Um. And people in the developing world and marginalized populations within those countries are still bearing the brunt of the impact of lead pollution. The leaded gasoline crisis took decades to finally address, but it probably would have taken even longer if not for the fact that it affected everyone. Instead of just settling on marginalized communities, which powerful people love to ignore. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh. 

 

Erin Ryan: Everybody was getting lead poisoned. So now when environmental issues like lead pop up, it often affects marginalized communities more or is allowed to affect them more. 

 

Max Fisher: So it’s not treated as much. Yeah. And I feel like something that we at least understand now, even if we don’t always act on it, is that no level of lead exposure is safe. Um. NASCAR, I learned, did not ban leaded gasoline from its races until 2007, and researchers later found that in just the areas around the race tracks, just for this one, you know, racing league. Mortality rates among elderly people dropped by almost 2% just from them switching out that gas. 

 

Erin Ryan: Oh my gosh. 

 

Max Fisher: So the NASCAR races alone they concluded were causing 4000 premature deaths a year. And this is just from a few cars going around a track. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, but cars go fast. 

 

Max Fisher: That’s a good point. 

 

Erin Ryan: But car go fast. Ugh. That is so upsetting. That is so upsetting. Well, it’s not just a danger to humans. It is now thought that lead poisoning may be one of the primary culprits for the near extinction of the California condor. 

 

Max Fisher: Huh.

 

Erin Ryan: Another thing that I have been obsessed with for almost as long as I’ve been obsessed with lead. Um. So sometimes California condors would eat uh carrion that had been shot and a lot of ammunition contained lead. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh, because they’re scavengers. 

 

Erin Ryan: Exactly. And so condors are just really, really susceptible and sensitive to lead. It was just killing them in droves. Um. By 1987, only 27 California condors remained. 

 

Max Fisher: And that’s because of lead. 

 

Erin Ryan: And that’s mostly because of lead. Yeah.

 

Max Fisher: I never knew that that was a lead thing. 

 

Erin Ryan: Yeah. And now, thanks to an aggressive capture and breeding program that number is up to 561, the numbers continue to grow, thanks in part to the fact that California banned lead ammunition in 2013. 

 

Max Fisher: Okay, so back to my precious Stanley mugs. Uh. 

 

Erin Ryan: You are a collector. Your desk is just a just an army of Stanley mugs. I wish–

 

Max Fisher: I’m actually I’m recording this underneath my pile of Stanley mugs right now. [laughter]

 

Erin Ryan: You sound great. It was a real pain for our editor to to put this all together but you–

 

Max Fisher: The soundproofing from the insulation in the Stanley mugs has lead in it, but really effective. Works really well. 

 

Erin Ryan: Okay. 

 

Max Fisher: Um. So. Okay. On the mugs. My understanding is that unless you grind them up like black pepper over your pasta, they’re not actually unsafe. Uh. But the fear around them is a reminder that we’re still figuring out how to coexist with lead safety. Right? Like those applesauce pouches that were contaminated with lead that we talked about earlier. Like, the CDC is still figuring out how extensive that contamination was. And this is something happening right now. 

 

Erin Ryan: It is so it is so, so bad. I have a I have a two year old, and I have a lot of friends with kids that are really little. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh yeah. 

 

Erin Ryan: And just the idea that you could be doing what you think is the right thing, you get them an applesauce pouch, low sugar. Great. 

 

Max Fisher: Right. 

 

Erin Ryan: They’ll eat it. They’ll just, you know, it’s a way to get them to eat something that isn’t macaroni and cheese. And the fact that it could be contaminated with a neurotoxin. 

 

Max Fisher: Because there’s so much lead in our environment.

 

Erin Ryan: Because there’s so much–

 

Max Fisher: That it. 

 

Erin Ryan: Well, because there’s so much lead in the cinnamon. So basically, this past week. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh. 

 

Erin Ryan: Regulators found that uh applesauce pouches that contained 2000 times the amount of lead that regulators deem acceptable impacted at least 442 people, mostly babies and toddlers, across 44 states. 

 

Max Fisher: Oh my God. 

 

Erin Ryan: And the culprit in the case was cinnamon. 

 

Max Fisher: Huh. 

 

Erin Ryan: Lead contaminated cinnamon that slipped through the cracks. Another culprit in the case, the complete failure of the government to adequately inspect and test baby food for heavy metals. Um. And there’s little to be done for the hundreds of families who’ve already been impacted by this. You’ve got a kid, you get them tested. You think they might have taken in one of these applesauce pouches. They have elevated levels of lead, and there’s not very much you can do. 

 

Max Fisher: So the FDA, I learned, actually only set specific lead limits for apple juice and candy in 2022. Which is not to say that those things were brimming with lead up until then, but just that we are really still adjusting to the existence of lead in our society. 

 

Erin Ryan: Mm hm. And we’re constantly playing a game of catch up. You know, the a chemical is released into the environment before we really know the total effect of it. We’re discovering that it’s actually really bad. We’re trying to chase it down, but by then it’s endemic. It’s everywhere. It’s in soil, it’s in water, it’s in plants, it’s in animals. And you know, what recourse do we have? You know, I I think that this story brings up a couple of sad truths that I don’t think get talked about enough. And one is that lead poisoning is something that happened to people and is beyond any individual’s control. So, you know, it might be, you know, interesting to watch a Karen throw a Frappuccino across a Starbucks counter because she can’t control her emotions. But this video actually might be someone who was literally poisoned as a child. 

 

Erin Ryan: Oh yeah. 

 

Max Fisher: Trying to move through the world with a brain that cannot function. And all of it was done so that some postwar nuclear families boat sized car would make less noise. And there are also a lot of problems in society that are attributed to individual choice or cultural influence that are probably actually the result of our environment and things beyond our control. And environmental causes of behavioral and public health problems are usually studied after the fact rather than before the fact. Um. And to to my third point, corporations see no problem gambling public health in the name of short term profit. And we are footing the emotional and the fiscal bill for that. You know, the long term impacts of generational lead exposure is something that we, as in people born after 1978, will have to deal with. You know, as Boomers and Gen Xers continue to age and need more medical care, we’re going to have to deal with the fact that some of the medical care that they will need, they would ostensibly not have needed had they not been exposed to a neurotoxin during so many of their formative years. 

 

Max Fisher: I think if I’m, like, fully honest with myself, part of why I was initially resistant to this theory is that I just I didn’t like what it implies about how malleable our sense of self is. You know, it’s one thing to hear that chemicals might cause problems with our bodies, but you want to think that your personality and your intelligence are things that emerge from this inner you that is kind of immutable and fixed. Like, I’m not religious, but I guess it kind of is like a soul. And it’s scary to find out that on some level, we are all the products of whatever chemicals happen to be in our environments. 

 

Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean we are products of our environments and the fact that we are not paying enough attention to what is going into the environment and what the effects of those things are, does us a disservice in both understanding ourselves and understanding life in general. And so, you know, you know, we’ve we’ve talked a lot about how lead peaked in the 1970s. And so people who were born in the 1970s get you know, are getting the brunt of it. I think it’s important to remember that, looking forward, there are other chemicals that are being used ubiquitously in food service, in manufacturing, in construction, in diapers. You know, there there are chemicals that are being used right now that we don’t know the impact of. 

 

Max Fisher: Mm hmm. 

 

Erin Ryan: And one thing that we can learn from this very frustrating story is that as voters and as human beings, we should be more on top of that. [laughter]

 

Max Fisher: Well, Erin, that is the story of how America poisoned itself with lead over 50 years and only just took it out of the air. Um Erin, stay safe out there. Try not to chew on any Stanley mugs. 

 

Erin Ryan: I will do my best to not chew on Stanley mugs. Even though I was born at the, you know, kind of in that shadow period. 

 

Max Fisher: You just after the line, yeah.

 

Erin Ryan: Where I may possibly have had some elevated lead exposure. I want to leave our listeners with uh an ad from the early 1970s um that helped me as a lady explain car combustion engines, and how it might be a good idea to take lead out of our gasoline. So enjoy. 

 

[clip of woman speaking from Atlantic Richfield ad from the 1970s] If you are a woman, you’re not expected to know much about cars, but they’re not difficult to understand once you know that, like you, your car breathes. All that an engine does, no matter how simple or complex it is, is draw in air mixed with gasoline and burn the mixture for power. That’s all. Atlantic Richfield hopes you do understand your car, because then you’ll understand their new gasoline, Arco Supreme. It helps cars breathe easy. Knowing that should help you breathe easy on the road.

 

[clip of man speaking from Atlantic Richfield ad from the 1970s] Arco Supreme gasoline helps your car breathe in easy to breathe out cleaner. [music break] 

 

Max Fisher: What a Day’s How We Got Here is a Crooked Media production. It’s written and hosted by me, Max Fisher, and by Erin Ryan. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Emma Illick-Frank is our associate producer. Evan Sutton is our sound editor. Kyle Seglin, Charlotte Landes and Vasilis Fotopoulos sound engineered the show. Production support from Leo Sussan, Itxy Quintanilla, Raven Yamamoto, Natalie Bettendorf, and Adriene Hill. And special thanks to What a Day hosts Tre’vell Anderson, Priyanka Aribindi, Josie Duffy Rice, and Juanita Tolliver for welcoming us to the family. 

 

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