Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Notes: Oral History of CLAIR PATTERSON

So I was studying that stuff. And Harrison said—he really

was a brilliant guy politically—”Oh, heck, the oil companies

should be interested in this.” “Why?” “Well, because if

Patterson is looking at these sediments, the isotopic composition

of the lead is a tracer that helps identify the stage, or the

age, to characterize the time or the type of sediment that you

have.” So he convinced the oil companies that they should

finance my research because it would assist them in identifying

oil deposits. You know, when you drill a core, you’re looking at

bands in a rock. And if you measure the lead isotopes in there,

it can give you more information than you had before. It could

help characterize the type of sediment, so it could help you

locate and identify oil deposits and reservoirs here and there.

So they started. It was a national consortium of oil companies

that had this big research fund where they doled it out to help



them do this stuff. Harrison got money from them every year,

huge amounts, to fund the operation of my laboratory, which had

nothing whatsoever to do with oil in any way, shape, or form.

Cohen: That’s called basic research.


And then a very bad thing happened. We were studying the

sediments, and we found from measuring the lead in these

sediments how much lead had been passing through the oceans and

depositing in these sediments. Now look, there’s two kinds of

lead: There’s a soluble lead that’s in the water—it’s sort of a

water lead—and then there’s lead in particles. These particles

are what the sediments are made out of.

Then I got some data from the rivers. Now these were idiots

who were measuring lead in river waters, who didn’t know anything

about how to measure lead.

Cohen: Who were these people?

Patterson: Oh, various institutions, measuring lead in river

waters. Patterson was the only guy who knew. You saw this

picture here? Here they were. They were measuring lead in river

waters here, and they didn’t know what they were doing and

they’re wrong. OK? And I knew that! Because I had previously

worked out how to do the measurements for meteorites.


 So I took their data for river water and I multiplied by all

the rivers of water how much water there is in the oceans each

year. And I came out with a number for lead that was 100 times

greater than the amount that we had measured that was flowing

through the oceans in the past.

 I thought, Something is wrong here. Are these guys wrong?

Or is there really that much lead coming into the oceans today?


What about the lead in gasoline? If you took all of the ocean—we

only had a profile for just part of the Pacific, and actually

part of the Atlantic, later—but if you took those profiles and

you extrapolated from that over all the world’s oceans, the

amount of lead equaled what was being produced from gasoline. It

could easily be accounted for by the amount of lead that was put

into gasoline and burned and put in the atmosphere. We had more

tons put in the atmosphere from lead gasoline than we could see

in the upper part of the world’s oceans right there.

 And that’s what caused the problem. The oil companies were

financing my work. We’re in serious trouble.

Patterson: Oh, he did! And that’s when he disassociated himself

from me. He stopped getting money from the oil companies, and I

had to start getting it myself. I wrote a big paper, and I said,

“This lead is coming from leaded gasoline.” Wham! They stopped

my research. They not only stopped funding me, they tried to get

the Atomic Energy Commission to stop giving me anything—they were

still giving me some money. They went around and tried to block

all my funding. But I’m so stupid that I didn’t know. I

couldn’t do anything about it. Harrison could have, but he was

out of it then.

 I needed money, a lot of money, because since I got this

idea about lead coming from gasoline, I wanted to look at the

record. Where do you see that record? You see it in the snow

that never melts in the polar regions. It comes out of the air,

which has lead in it. Lead is in the snowflakes. It goes down,

and you have a layer there. Next year you have another one.


Cohen: Now did you arrange all of this yourself?

Patterson: I arranged it, but the payment of this stuff—you know

I can’t really remember how this was financed. God must have

arranged for me to get this money in some way or other, because I

certainly didn’t have the ability to convince people to do this.

 Anyway, we got it. The money was there, and there was a

lot. So we collected the snow up there, and we brought it back

here and we analyzed it and found huge concentrations of lead

increasing over the last centuries, since the 1700s until now—

about a 200- or 300-fold increase in the concentrations of lead.

And these concentrations were so infinitesimally small compared

to what other people were used to measuring that no one else

could verify this. It was impossible. It was beyond their

ability by factors of thousands, or tens of thousands. So no one

could verify what we did. So it was sort of sitting there for a


And you know what? The barium-to-calcium ratio in rocks was

way up here. It was actually 100 times greater—it dropped in our

food, and it dropped in us, by a factor of 100. And I said,

“Look, lead and barium is wrong. The barium ratio shows that

lead should be 100 times less than it actually is in us today.

We are being poisoned by lead. And guess where it is coming

from? Look at the ocean. You see this curve with all this lead

up here? That’s coming from tetraethyl lead. Why do you think

it took me all these years to measure meteorite lead properly in

the laboratory? We are as contaminated as the laboratory.”

 They thought that was a pile of crap! They said—no, they

didn’t say, they thought and said later—“Patterson, would you

please start worrying about science instead of this health crap.


What a waste! Here you are, you measured the age of the earth,

and you’re worrying about tetraethyl lead. And this stupid stuff

about lead in bones.”

 But I was right. The barium ratio went down a factor of

100. And you know, when we finally actually measured it—it took

about twenty-five years to do this accurately—it’s a factor of

1,000. You see, I predicted it was a factor of 100. I was off,
the wrong way. [Laughter] 

Cohen: What was your motivation at this point? Were you
thinking in an environmental sense?
Patterson: No, I was not! Science, science, science! I wanted
to know, What is this natural level of lead? I didn’t care two
hoots about verifying what the contamination was. I was forced
to measure the contamination in order to arrive at what was the
natural level.
Cohen: So you were not being driven by environmental issues  whatsoever?


Patterson: I was not. But there were friends and colleagues who
were environmentalists, and they used my work. My work was used
to get the lead out of gasoline. As a matter of fact, I wrote a
paper on this biopurification concept [in which] I said, “We have
100 times more lead than we should have.” And that’s when I
really got shot down by the oil companies. But when other people
around learned about this, they seized upon that, and that was
used by them. “Well, here is scientific evidence suggesting. . .
.” You see, they wanted to get lead out of gasoline. 

So it was
instrumental; this was the impetus that began providing the
scientific foundation to get lead out of gasoline. Because
before, all they had for evidence was people who were being
poisoned in the factories. The government was taking elaborate
precautions, which they forced industry to follow when they
started doing this in the thirties. How to protect people making
this lead tetraethyl. Do you realize that one drop on your skin
of pure lead tetraethyl will kill you? One drop! It takes about
two or three weeks, and you die with clinically similar symptoms
to rabies hitting the central nervous system. It passes the
membrane that gets into the brain, and it poisons the brain. And
it takes about two or three weeks, and you’re dead. One drop.
[Laughter] And you know, people wash their hands in this stuff
[gasoline]. And do you know why nothing happens? Because it’s
more soluble in the oil in the gasoline than it is in the lipids
of your skin. And so you only die slowly from lead poisoning. 

So this French guy, he and my Australian colleague and a few
other guys got together and said they’d use these new techniques,
and they measured what the concentration of lead was during Roman
and Greek times, through cores, using the techniques that we had
developed in my laboratory here. Guess what their curve was as a
function of time? It fell right on top of my lead production
curve. I had published this curve. And then they called me up
and said, “Pat, we’ve got your curve. It’s the same damn curve.”
 How would you have felt? Do you think I was proud? No!
You know what I said? “That proves for 2,000 years we have been
unable to understand the evil that we are doing to ourselves and
the biosphere.” Because you see, this lead was coming out of the  


Greek and Roman smelters into the atmosphere, going around the
Earth, part of it working its way up, and was incorporated in
snow that fell at the North Pole. And you know what? Two
thousand years ago, they knew about lead poisoning. They could
associate the ill poisoning effects with lead, but do you know
who was affected by it? The slaves working in the mines and
smelters. And who gave two hoots for those slaves? They were
war prisoners and they were criminals. And they lived about five
years. I made calculations about that: How many died in the
Roman mines. There were millions over a period of 200 years.
 So my response to this was. . . . Do you think it was one of
feeling proud? No way! I knew the damn figures were right in 
the first place, but OK, this is proof. And you see, this is the
other thing. When they look at what Patterson has found out, and
they say, “Oh, this is true because of this work here that we’ve
got,” they’ve eliminated a huge contribution to lead in people
and children from lead in soldered cans. I was right there when
they started, and you know, the people who manufactured welded
cans wanted to make me an executive in their business. They were
so grateful that the government shifted over to welded cans.
It’s initially a more expensive can. And getting the lead out of
gas, the same thing.
 That is not a victory! We haven’t accomplished anything.
It’s way back, when the Romans were mining the stuff, they
shifted it to the slaves. We haven’t learned a thing about this.
We haven’t learned why we think and do these evil things. And
that’s what lies behind the story, and that’s why I’m in human
consciousness today. Because I looked at this picture, and I
asked, “Why did we do that? What were the factors that caused

No comments:

Post a Comment