Bursting The Lead Balloon


Do I have a choice?

If you are under the age of 30, and you’ve seen that dire warning printed somewhere on flashback fridaymost cars, “UNLEADED FUEL ONLY”, you’re probably wondering why it’s there in the first place.  I mean, unless someone’s stupid enough to pull up to the kerosene pump and start filling up ol’ Betsy, you really don’t have much of a choice but to use unleaded gas, do you?  Well, that’s because you’re one of the lucky ones who will live a smarter and healthier life thanks to one of the greatest innovations in petroleum history getting replaced since it was turning our children into a bunch of dumbasses…

Bobby!  Have you been huffing the gasoline again?

Bobby! Have you been huffing the gasoline again?

In the 1920’s, a chemical engineer named Thomas Midgley found commercial uses for two chemical compounds that changed the world and made life better for all of us…. until we later found out that both of them were totally destroying our environment.  The inventor of the infamous ozone-destroying CFC’s, Midgley was also the father of leaded gasoline.  Tetraethyllead was added to gasoline in the 20’s to reduce engine knocking, which helped engines and cars last longer.

Still around in 1983 thanks to leaded gasoline!

Still around in 1983 thanks to leaded gasoline!

For five decades, leaded gasoline was all the rage and most Americans were none the wiser as to the damage it was doing to the soil and the collective IQ.  Ethyl Corp., the makers of the TEL additive used in gasoline, had a nice pipeline into Washington to ensure that their mind poison continued to be lauded as being just as safe as smoking was back then.  But in 1972, the EPA finally set the stage for the phaseout of leaded gasoline… though it wouldn’t be until 1996 that you could no longer see this sight in the United States of America…

I couldn't really find a good leaded gas sign picture, but as you can see here, that "Regular" being sold is clearly not unleaded...

I couldn’t really find a good leaded gas sign picture, but as you can see here, that “Regular” being sold is clearly not unleaded…

I remember my family always filled up on regular leaded gas in the 80’s.  Since I cut a lot of grass back then, it also went good in the lawnmower.  Those “Unleaded Fuel Only” tags on cars were still something of a novelty just three decades ago, and almost every gas station in town still had leaded gas at the top of their signs as the cheapest option.  Like everything else I remember from my youth, I kinda miss leaded gas.  It took a while for me to get adjusted to Regular Unleaded moving from the middle spot on the gas price signs up to top billing.  Of course, maybe it was just how messed up my mind was from the lead exposure…

Mmmmm, yummy!

Mmmmm, yummy!

The main health hazard from exposure to lead to neurological damage.  To put it bluntly, consuming lead can turn you into a blithering dumbass, especially if you are a kid.  When the results of lead poisoning research started getting out and accepted in the 1970’s, our government did what it does best, and after many decades of ignoring the problem started banning the shit out of lead.  Lead paint was outlawed outright in the late 70’s since too many little imps were peeling it off the wall and eating it, since you think nothing tastes better than a little Dutch Boy when your mind is already being destroyed by lead emissions…

Groovy man, groovy!

Groovy man, groovy!

The Dragnet imagery in the above photo is even more fitting given how Friday and Gannon spent so much time dealing with incorrigible youths on the 60’s revival shows (Only one of the best fucking series in TV history).  Lead exposure is widely blamed for the increase in crime among juveniles during the middle to late decades of the 20th century.  There are even charts demonstrating the correlation between leaded gasoline use and violent crime rates given an appropriate one generation lag for the effects to take hold.  So if you thought kids were particularly violent and rebellious these days, imagine how much worse it would be had the lead not been dramatically decreased from our environment over the past 30 years…

Damn delinquent little juvies!  Put down that beer and go find a job!

Damn delinquent little juvies! Put down that beer and go find a job!

Mother Nature likes to surprise us in wicked ways every time we think we have found a panacea to one of our civilization’s problems.  While lead additives had their practical benefits that were revolutionary at the time, it really wasn’t considered at the time how much the automobile would take off and spread its lead emitted pollution far and wide, nor were the consequences of the exposure from that lead really studied or considered.  If you have ever read the Stephen King short story “The End of the Whole Mess”, it’s quite reminiscent of the leaded gas story… only leaded gas didn’t manage to quite kill us all through it’s slow mental deterioration.  It just made us a little bit stupider overall…

It's no coincidence "Forrest Gump" took place during the lead exposure spike...

It’s no coincidence “Forrest Gump” took place during the lead exposure spike…

Since I grew up in an era when the air and likely the house I grew up in was completely full of lead, I think I can safely say that without this miracle element, I would not be the totally fucked up person I am today.  So we here at The Nest would like to offer up a salute to the people out there who put a little lead in our life, without which we would not have had Rainbow Donkeys, Blue Boy, Ritalin, the government shutting down, and probably the Woodstock festival.  We may be glad that our environment will be a cleaner and healthier place now, but we will still long for the heavy metal poisoning we got from your sweet smelling fumes that warped the minds of an entire generation.

And there is no better way to end this post than with a video of one of Styx’s best…


About evilsquirrel13

Bored former 30-something who has nothing better to do with his life than draw cartoon squirrels.
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23 Responses to Bursting The Lead Balloon

  1. acuriousgal says:

    Awwww, the good ole days!! Thank goodness for unleaded!! Is that really a Styx song? I don’t remember it

    • Yes it was! Off the infamous “Kilroy Was Here” album, which featured the well known song “Mr. Roboto”. I like both Tommy Shaw’s and Dennis DeYoung’s musical vision, and it’s a shame they couldn’t overcome their creative differences to keep the well-known lineup together longer….

  2. Mental Mama says:

    Betsy was the name of my mom’s Chevy Caprice Classic station wagon. And isn’t it crazy how much cheaper gas was when we started driving? I had a 62 Chevy Impala and could fill the tank for less than $15. Now I drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee and it’s rare that I pull away from the pump for less than $50. Crazy I tell you, crazy.

    • When I first bought my Neon 13 years ago, it only cost about $10 to fill it up. Now it can be as much as $35! It really wasn’t all that long ago when gas was last under a buck a gallon. Wall Street speculation has totally fucked up gas prices over the last decade….

      • draliman says:

        Humph. I have a humble Ford Fiesta which I filled up last week – £45 ($72). 😦
        And petrol is a lot cheaper than it was a few weeks ago.

      • Sometimes, when Americans complain about the price of gas, some smartypants will bring up how much more expensive it is in Europe and that we should feel lucky we’re only paying around $3 a gallon now. It doesn’t really work, but even at today’s prices it could be worse. $72 would make me reconsider driving….

  3. merbear74 says:

    My cousin accidentally ingested some leaded gas when we were kids, but he seemed perfectly normal. Hmm. Interesting post ES. I have not a wisecrack….wait…”Can you pick me up a Slurpie at 7-11?”

  4. NotAPunkRocker says:

    Our Ford LTD Station Wagon was called the Queen Mary, after the famous ship. Land yacht is also an appropriate description.

    I remember being ticked when I drove my ex’s car. It was a 93 Trans-Am and had to use premium gas…at 99 cents per gallon. The price we paid for cool…

    • Ha on the LTD! I know someone else who reads my blog who had one back in the day that they named after a ship! I always thought premium gas was a shameless ripoff, then again, I’ve never driven anything that demanded it….

  5. The Cutter says:

    My father used to drive a Datsun station wagon that took diesel fuel. Sure, it might have been more efficient, but that car would shake like the dickens.

  6. gentlestitches says:

    We had a plymouth with tailfins that was the size of a swimming pool inside! as a kid I remember thinking petrol smelled “nice”. We had a lot of protests here before lead was banned. people had signs up in their front yards saying “the fumes are hurting our children’s brains” interesting article ES! 🙂

  7. draliman says:

    Tell you what, I used to love the smell of paint as it dried. Now that there’s no lead in it any more it smells rubbish.
    And it never did me any harm. Wibble wibble hatstand.

  8. C.K. Hope says:

    See and people are always saying Gen X was screwed up because of all the drugs our parents did in the 60’s!I knew there had to be more to it than that!

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