My understanding is that, for example, there are places where the surface soil was 5% lead (like on the sides of busy roads) so the amount of lead was significant.

So why did children in particular not develop signs like blue lines in their gums? And why was leaded paint considered (I think) a greater danger than leaded gasoline?

EDIT: One thought is, blue line in gums as I now understand it is not from systemic lead poisoning but from the action of bacteria on lead in the mouth. So eating lead paint or drinking from lead-glazed cups can cause this symptom; breathing fine particulate lead would not. (But eating contaminated soil might cause it.)

However, there are other acute lead poisoning symptoms that could have been seen. I don't know, maybe they were and were attributed to paint when in fact they came from gasoline or a combination of the two. There was also lead in newsprint (colored and kids who used Silly Putty to capture funny pages images and subsequently chewed on the Putty could have gotten lead exposure that way) -- let's face it, there was a lot of lead around and the powerful fossil fuel industry as well as the equally powerful car manufacturing industry plus the makers of the gasoline additive definitely fought for tetra-ethyl lead and would have argued that acute lead poisoning cases came from other kinds of exposure than car exhaust.

What a frigging tragedy that billions of people were exposed to lead unnecessarily for so many decades.

  • 2
    A) Leaded gasoline did cause increased lead exposure; do you have a source that shows leaded gasoline did not contribute to more acute lead poisoning than would have occurred without it? B) What has your research shown you about how much lead is required for acute toxicity? C) Citation needed for leaded paint being a greater danger than leaded gasoline: both were used for a long time.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 16, 2019 at 22:22
  • Acute lead poisoning has fairly obvious symptoms as I described and yet I never heard of kids exhibiting the blue line without some other source. No citation about paint but I can say that I did not know leaded gasoline actually contained lead until 1976 whereas I was aware of lead paint before that.
    – releseabe
    Apr 16, 2019 at 22:59
  • 2
    @releseabe That's all well and good, but you need to address Bryan's points or your question is at risk of being closed for lack of prior research.
    – Carey Gregory
    Apr 17, 2019 at 1:46

1 Answer 1


Lead paint was banned because it leads directly to lead poisoning by contact rather than inhalation, which can arguably be considered slower and 'less' of a risk.1

Children often place toys in their mouths, which, especially if the toy is painted with lead paint, is obvious harmful. Wikipedia says the paint also flakes and forms dust which is then inhaled.2

Also, although a bit of a sorry excuse, lead poisoning from gasoline wasn't considered particularly any more lethal than straight-up carbon monoxide poisoning!

For reference, the blue line is also known as the lead line, and also as Burton's line, which from these references, is mainly caused by Pica, or added lead in opiates:

Burton’s line is a sign of chronic lead intoxication that develops when lead reacts with oral bacteria metabolites.

  • Paint in good condition is far less of a risk than leaded gasoline since you can safely be in a room painted with lead paint while you are guaranteed to get some exposure from cars using leaded gasoline. But interesting idea about CO -- CO has both chronic and acute effects on the CNS so perhaps lead was just another risk. But: My question was not about perception but about why in fact did not kids not get acute lead poisoning (with blue line symptom) from leaded gasoline.
    – releseabe
    Apr 17, 2019 at 7:31

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