Lead: Environmental Racism

I’d heard about the correlation between lead and violent crime before, but George Monbiot adds an interesting point:

There is only one remaining manufacturer of tetraethyl lead on earth. It’s based in Ellesmere Port in Britain, and it’s called Innospec. The product has long been banned from general sale in the UK, but the company admits on its website that it’s still selling this poison to other countries. Innospec refuses to talk to me, but other reports claim that tetraethyl lead is being exported to Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, Iraq, North Korea, Sierra Leone and Yemen, countries afflicted either by chaos or by governments who don’t give a damn about their people.

In 2010 the company admitted that, under the name Associated Octel, it had paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Iraq and Indonesia to be allowed to continue, at immense profit, selling tetratethyl lead. Through an agreement with the British and American courts, Innospec was let off so lightly that Lord Justice Thomas complained that “no such arrangement should be made again”. God knows how many lives this firm has ruined.

The UK government tells me that because tetraethyl lead is not on the European list of controlled exports, there is nothing to prevent Innospec from selling to whoever it wants. There’s a term for this: environmental racism.

If it is true that lead pollution, whose wider impacts have been recognised for decades, has driven the rise and fall of violence, then there lies, behind the crimes that have destroyed so many lives and filled so many prisons, a much greater crime.