Toxin in your tank: lead and violence around the world

The lead spewed out from gasoline “render[ed] children anti-social, violent and aggressive: with a time lag of 20 years or so, the crime rate exactly reflected childhood exposure to lead”. So, belatedly, agrees The Economist in its article, “A Toxin in your Tank”. The article goes on to note that the only places in the world still routinely using lead in gasoline are also the most violent: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea, Sierra Leone and Yemen. The United Nations is hoping to persuade them to stop in 2013. If they are successful, can we hope that violence in these countries will drop in 20 years?

Meanwhile, as readers of this blog know, lead contamination is still occurring in Canada. Racetracks and aviation are still using leaded gas; Inuit children suffer from heavy metal contamination of the animals they eat; leaded pipes still contaminate drinking water, and lead keeps showing up in toys and other consumer products. And lead continues to lurk in the dust and painted surfaces of older houses, and in the soil near busy roads and highways. Looking back, it’s hard to think of any public policy error worse than putting lead in gasoline, thus spreading hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the neuro toxin almost everywhere people live. What were we thinking?


  1. Lead has been ubiquitous since the Roman empire. Lead goblets and plates and then later pewter, a combo of lead and tin, were the guilty parties. We should have known better.

    Fast forward to the current day, we should look out for Manganese which as replaced lead as the anti-knock compound. For some reason the push to remove it from the gasoline formula, got pushed back by some odd clause in the Free Trade Act. The majority of the world has gotten rid of this heavy metal additive, why is Canada lagging behind?

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