Veritasium has come in for quite a bit of stick recently over his videos on electricity. However, recently I came across this one, entitled The Man Who Accidentally Killed The Most People In History. It contains so much history, most of which I already half knew, but now have a much clearer picture. I am sharing it here, not only because of its interest as regarding science and technology, but also because I would like to ask readers their opinion as regards whether the title is appropriate.
There are also a lot of personal reminiscences I would like share concerning this subject. The first concerns my first major job, at the Paint Research Association in Teddington (in south-west London in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames). Once, in my ignorance, I suggested the possibility of using tetraethyl lead as a heavy metal stain for electron microscopy. I was immediately bawled out by the senior technician in that department, on account of its toxic nature. My father, a chemical engineer, confirmed this and explained that any worker in the plant where it was produced would be immediately shoved under a paraffin shower if he came in contact with even a drop of the liquid.
In the video it mentions how Midgely had tried a tellurium compound, which worked but the smell was so bad that he had to sleep apart from his wife in a separate room for months afterwards. I remember a chemistry lecturer explaining how organic compounds of Group VIb elements were the big stinkers. Sulfur compounds are bad enough, but selenium ones are even worse. The vapour from one drop of carbon diselenide expelled to the outdoors from a fume cupboard had caused pupils in a school 500 yards away to feel horribly sick. Tellurium compounds, one row down the periodic table, are much worse. A chemist who had got one drop of dimethyl telluride on himself passed the odour on to his clothing. One day, sitting at a bus shelter near the top of a cliff, he had taken off his raincoat and gone for a walk. While he was away, another passenger had arrived at the shelter, and unable to put up with the smell had thrown the raincoat off the clifftop into the sea. In Britain, we had our own counterpart to Clair Patterson, namely Derek Bryce-Smith, Professor of Chemistry at Reading University. However, he gained something of a reputation of being a monomanic, for example blaming the bad behaviour of children in a particular electoral ward of Reading on either leaded petrol or on peeling lead paint in poorly maintained houses.
That’s my reminiscences. Here are a couple of contemporary observations.
Lead replaces calcium in bones. Towards the end of this web article by Outdoor Life Let’s Cut The B.S. Around Bone Broth and How to Make it Yourself one is advised not to excercise caution.
Lead ... and other contaminants may be present in commercial animal food streams and wild game in your area, so do your homework before you include anything into your personal food chain.
And something so typical of today. In the comments to the video, a number of people were drawing comparisons with Glyphosate or the Pfizer Covid vaccine.
Over to the reader ...