Posted by Roger Mallett Posted on 3 July 2023

How one brave man took on the world, and won

transportation and ownership concept – man pumping gasoline fuel in car at gas station

IF YOU have ever wondered why petrol used to contain lead before it was gradually phased out, you can thank one man, Professor Derek Bryce-Smith. His story shows how concerted but cool, evidence-based campaigning can eventually win the day, even when the whole world – or at least big corporations – marshal in all their might against you.

There are very close parallels here with those now drawing attention to the harm, serious illness and even death which has been caused by the mRNA vaccines and who are similarly being dismissed as cranks, conspiracy theorists and barmy anti-vaxxers. I am writing about the lead in petrol story now to give hope to those who, like Mike Yeadon, Andrew Bridgen, Robert F Kennedy Jr and others voicing the truth, are not giving up, even in the face of countless attempts at character assassination.

My own part in Derek Bryce-Smith’s story came about because, in 1986, I was working on a book with him about the many health benefits of nutritional zinc. Through a number of meetings at his laboratory at Reading University, where he was Professor of Organic Chemistry, I learned how lead additives in petrol came to be banned.

In the 1950s, Bryce-Smith, then a young researcher working at King’s College, London, wanted to get hold of some tetraethyl-lead, which was routinely used as an ‘anti-knocking’ agent in petrol, for an experiment he was conducting. Tetraethyl-lead improved the efficiency of vehicles, turning clunky engines into smooth-running ones.

Derek looked through all the chemical catalogues at his disposal, only to discover that tetraethyl-lead was absent from each one.  Wondering why, he wrote to the manufacturers, Associated Octel, and asked them to explain the reason. A representative from the company visited him to say that they did not normally make the stuff available, even to experimental chemists.

Why, Derek asked. The answer was that the stuff had dangerously poisonous qualities. ‘It attacks the brain,’ he was told. ‘If you had an accident with it you could be killed or left insane.’ The company’s representative added: ‘If this got out, the papers might try to get hold of the story and start saying we shouldn’t add it to petrol.’ The fact that King’s College was very near to Fleet Street, then the heart of the national newspaper industry, might well have had some bearing on Octel’s concerns.

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