Perspectives: Field Notes

Ethics: Blow the Whistle

Take a stand when you come across a corporate misdeed

By Dirk Willard, Contributing Editor
Jan 12, 2015

Ever wonder how tetraethyl lead (TEL) was banned from gasoline? The anti-knock additive was developed by chemist Thomas Midgley and introduced by the Ethyl Corp. in 1923. Although regulators had some proof even then of the lethality of TEL, the additive continued in use until phased out as a result of the Clean Air Act of 1970; it was completely prohibited in 1995. Clair Patterson, a geochemist at the California Institute of Technology, led the efforts to ban TEL. Although he was offered lucrative employment to get him to give up the campaign and ostracized for conducting his research, Patterson established atmospheric data showing the connection between increased lead contamination in the environment and in the human body and TEL. Without his efforts who can say where we would be today?

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