The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution

The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution

"... The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution": Taking Action in a Landmark Case Against the Lead-Paint Industry

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Food and Drug Acts

The research our team has been doing on the lead-based paint case and the issues surrounding it has, as Doctor Rosner assured us it would, led us into other branches of research. Investigating a present issue through historical articles has been extremely interesting; it is a whole new way of doing research and finding out why things currently are the way they are. The relationships between manufacturers, consumers, and government were very different in the early 1900s, and I am just beginning to uncover some of the reasons why these situations were altered over the course of history.

What began with lead paint poisoning in children can be traced back even further to lead poisoning in children due to the consumption of candy. In 1850, Dr. Arthur Hill Hassall voiced his concern over the poisons that were being put into candy, including lead. Here we see an earlier awareness of children’s sensitivity to harmful chemicals, especially when they were being added into a product targeted for children. Dr. Hassall was one of the pioneers for the legislation of the first Food and Drug Act, and his work was grounded in children’s safety. It’s ironic that they are still the ones who suffer.
For a look into chemicals used in the early 1900s, see:

In my last blog, I touched upon the addition of lead in makeup and how some cases of lead poisoning arose from cosmetics. After uncovering articles from 1906 that discussed a case of lead poisoning from toothpaste and how sugar of lead was being used in hair dye, I changed my focus to a larger issue that Dr. Rosner suggested. He suggested we begin to look into the Food and Drug Acts of 1906 and 1938 and use these events to look at the situations in the United States at the time. The first Food and Drug Act quickly became obsolete with the rise of an industrial culture. Cosmetics were not included in the first Act.

A large problem in the early 1900s with medicines and cosmetics is that advertisers were able to make a person believe that they were inflicted with an ailment while advertising for its cure. Everyone began to claim, “guaranteed under the Food and Drug Act” but it seemed to have almost no meaning whatsoever! One example of a ridiculous advertisement was for “Newbro’s Herpicide” which claimed to kill dandruff germs, which is actually a contagious disease that would eventually lead to baldness. (1907).
In the article ““Bar All Food Poison; U.S. So Pleads in Flour Case Before Supreme Court. SEES HARM EVEN IN LITTLE” the government had to present this argument to the Supreme Court in May 12, 1913 –
“If minute quantities of nitrates may be added to flour,” it was declared in a government brief presented to the court, “of boric acid to eggs, of chromate of lead to the coffee bean, of sulphate of copper to peas, or arsenic or lead to baking powder, of Martin’s yellow to macaroni, of wood alcohol to flavoring extracts, so long as it is not provable that enough in each case to possibly injure the health of someone, than the statute is incapable of enforcement…If actual injury must be shown, what standard of resistance is to be adopted? Will it be that of the sickly infant, or the strong man?”
The original Pure Food and Drug Act was clearly not doing its job, but it was not changed until the 1930s. I wondered what brought about this change, and after looking deeper into the issue a number of fascinating and frightening things came to my attention.

The awareness of poisons in cosmetics really arose in the late 1920s; I found articles warning women of lead and mercury in some makeups in 1927. Also in this year, the rising popularity of lipstick and rouge led members of the New York State Medical Society to suggest that cosmetics be included in the Pure Food and Drug Act. Around this time people are starting to furnish the idea that it is the government’s responsibility to regulate the labeling on foods, drugs, and cosmetics. In an article entitled “A Housewife Praises,” written in 1934, Catherine Hackett makes it clear that she wants legislation in order to make sure she gets what she pays for in a store. But her major concerns besides not getting enough chicken in her jar of chicken and noodles, are the drugs and cosmetics that she purchases. The public push for legislation seems to arise from consumers, which are mostly women. The National League of Women Voters even gave lectures entitles “Buyers Beware,” and argued that consumers as a group lack bargaining power and are not protected from producers and sellers. They also urged members to support a new and improved Food and Drug Act.

This was definitely a time of exposing the wrongdoings of manufacturers and sellers; the information out there is both amazing and horrifying. For example, in 1935 an undercover detective bought alcohol that had poisoned 9 inmates at Rancho Los Amigos. The mixture, labeled “whiskey,” contained alcohol, acetate, paint solvent, and some gasoline. The seller later claimed that it was not intended for drinking purposes. Senator Copeland, a physician from New York, was one of the men who introduced a bill into the Senate for possible changes of legislation. He also set up a “school” one day in the Senate and showed bottles and packages that were either false or dangerous. Some of his examples were poisonous candy and cosmetics that had blinded women. There was so much going on at this time that I don’t even have enough space to finish discussing it! Basically, the times were changing and there were many other issues at stake besides outlawing what is put into food or not. The government still had to figure out how to enforce and make changes and what the consequences would be to America and its economy. Manufacturers had their own spin on things as well. More about the revision of the Food and Drug Act and the effects next week! Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

(Here is an interesting advertisement in celebration of the first Food and Drug Act and the man who began the push for it--)


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