I’m sure you’ve heard of the dangers of lead paint, and that you shouldn’t lick old furniture. I was surprised to hear that it was only white paint that contained lead, which was in fact the pigment used to make the paint white. Through a chemical reaction, the dull gray lead would “grow” a covering of white flakes that would be scraped off as powder and used to make paint a brilliant white. While a pure-blue paint would have no reason to contain lead, many coloured paints would have been mixed with the lead-based white. So generally it’s still best to keep antiques out of your mouth, no matter the colour.
Another interesting story here is how it took so long for lead paint to be banned in America. Though mentioned as far back as 200 BC, the poisonous affects of lead was medically established in 1887 in the US, and again in 1897 in Australia. (They noticed children would become ill after chewing on porch railings.) The link to lead-paint was confirmed in a 1904 study, again in Australia, finding that the lead can be transferred when children merely touch paint, then the fingers inevitably go in the ol’ pie-hole.
Over in the US of A, a bill makes it to congress in 1910 to keep lead-based paint out of homes, and another bill the same year to label lead paints with a poison warning. Both attempts fail. In 1921 the League of Nations (that’s the original United Nations… nothing to do with superheroes) got together to make official the dangers of lead paint. The USA did not attend, and did not agree with the resolution.
With mounting scientific evidence, and public concern, the Lead Industry Association and paint manufacturers ran an advertising campaign throughout the 20s up to the 50s playing down the hazards. The “Dutch Boy”, mascot of the National Lead Company, specifically told kids how great lead paint was. Advertisements featured babies touching brilliant white walls. A children’s book was published entitled “Dutch Boy’s Lead Party”.
The tide began to turn in America with increased media coverage of the hazards. In 1943 it hit the mainstream with a TIME magazine report. The biggest hit came with the 1956 issue of PARADE magazine and the article “Don’t Let Your Child Get Lead Poisoning” which reached 7 million homes, plus the national television coverage that followed. With an amazingly swift response, the US government finally decided to put a ban on lead-based paints… in 1978. Due to the 68 year delay, there is a still lead paint present in millions of American homes.
- Source: http://www.lead411.org/Templates/history/white_lead_pigment.htm
- Lead timeline: http://www.lead.org.au/fs/fst29.html
- Many examples of lead advertising: http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/research/project/enviro/hazard/lead/lead-advertising/default.htm