Get the Lead Out


…and other environmental toxins, too. From the Miami Herald:

Americans have dramatically cut the levels of lead and secondhand tobacco smoke in their blood and urine, a new federal study found Thursday….

Levels of the key chemical marker for secondhand smoke fell 75 percent for adults and about 68 percent for children compared with a decade earlier.

Only 1.6 percent of children 5 and younger had lead levels that traditionally have been considered high. That's down from 4.4 percent in the early 1990s.

Whole thing here.

The bad news is apparently that levels of cadmium are up a bit. I say "apparently" because from the story above it's unclear whether cadmium levels are actually going up or whether the government has lowered the acceptable amount recently. Which is hardly the same thing.

Indeed, even the lead level stuff can be confusing. There's no question that switching to unleaded gasoline in the '70s and a few other policies really got most of the lead out of the environment. However, it's also true that government officials are known to monkey with numbers to create more of a problem than there is. For instance, in the 1990s, the level of lead in the blood of a "poisoned" child was often lower than the average for kids in the '60s (go here and scroll).

And as Reason's Jacob Sullum has pointed out in For Your Own Good and elsewhere, the triumph over second-hand smoke is highly unlikely to yield much in the way of increases in health for the simple reason that second-hand smoke is not much of a threat to begin with.