Regulators and Lead

I was most taken aback by the candor found in many of the documents on the website. We have this image in our heads of corporate malfeasance that is insulated and clandestine. Actions disclosed to a limited number of corrupt individuals and hidden from the regulators intended to protect us. I found the admissions of ignorance pretty astonishing. I began by reading the letter from the chief engineer of the fuel section of General Motors to the Surgeon General, admits no experimental data has been done about tetraethyl lead, that in certain circumstances even by their brutish calculations people will be ingesting dangerous amounts in places like the Hudson river tunnel, and employs a trust us and we’ll find out what happens approach to bring the product to market and then study its effects.

I then began looking at documents in the archive that included Surgeon General Cummings and found a pretty continuous theme. Even after the actions of New York State to ban concentrated lead sales, he continues to employ a wait and see approach for the Department of Mines to finish their experiments. While Cumming eventually oversaw the regulatory commission that resulted in the restriction of lead sales, it still is shocking to a contemporary mind to see a chief policy mind admit a complete apathy and naivety to an actively sold consumer chemical that he has received many reports of its harmful effect. It could be interesting to map the changes in public health mindset (burdens of response to burden of prevention) from administration to administration. I previously wrote a research paper for this phenomenon in Chinese national health policy, and I think modeling a similar question of health prevention and state capacity in an American context would be fascinating.