Lead - The Brilliant Performer: Refurbishing an Image

Zelms, Jeffrey L.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 4
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1992
There is no known, practical substitute for lead in the automobiles, communications systems, medical equipment and computers that Americans use every day. However, there are many who say lead should be stopped at its source -- banned. As America's largest lead producer, The Doe Run Company has ralized that it must do more than mine and reclaim lead efficiently and safely. It must also earn the public's consent to operate if it is to continue to be a viable business. LEAD - THE BRILLIANT PERFORMER: REFURBISHING AN IMAGE It's been an embarrassingly long time since I was a college student. However, I remember there was no course at the University of Missouri's School of Mines and Metallurgy that had anything to do with the public relations aspects of mining or, put another way, the politicization of mining. It's been an embarrassingly long time since I was a college student. However, I remember there was no course at the University of Missouri's School of Mines and Metallurgy that had anything to do with the public relations aspects of mining or, put another way, the politicization of mining. I haven’t perused the course catalog for Penn State’s College of Earth and Minerals Sciences. But I strongly suspect I wouldn’t find such a course there today, either. A statement by the chairman of one of the country’s largest chemical companies leads to the point I want to make. He described his business this way. He said, “We’re a public affairs company that just happens to produce and market chemicals.” Like chemicals, minerals and mining are politicized today. To the extent that we don’t understand that reality, we don’t understand that reality – and act on it – we’re less likely to survive in this business. Some of you may well be saying to yourselves, “This guy Zelms is an alarmist.” That’s fair enough. Because it is absolutely true that there’s n o known, practical substitute for lead today. And it’s also absolutely true that, knowingly or not, Americans use lead everyday. It’s in our automobile batteries. It’s an integral part of communications systems. High tech (and low tech) medical equipment contains lead. And lead is an essential component of computer and TV screens. But even with all these uses, lead has a negative image today. An image so negative that its very existence is threatened. If you doubt that, consider these two statements made in 1989. Statement one. “It is probably reasonable to argue that exposure is the single most important and critical environmental health problem in the U.S., and possibly also the world…” Statement number two. “Many of the uses of lead should be terminated. We need to go back to the ultimate source: that is, taking lead out of the ground and putting it into the product stream and we need to turn it off at the ultimate source. Not the approximate lead in gasoline, or lead in air, or lead in food. Go right back to the source and start cranking it down." (End quote.) Those are what I call strong statements. And they weren’t made by some celebrity spokesperson for the environment like Meryl Streep. Both these statements were made by Dr. Ellen Silbergeld, whose long list of professional and academic credentials includes: o Adjunct professor and research scientist at the University of Maryland Medical School and Johns Hopkins: o Chief toxic scientist and director of the Toxic Chemicals Program of the Environmental Defense fund; o and President of the Society for Occupational and Environmental Health. If Dr. Silbergeld were the only person making these kinds of statements, it would be one thing. But she’s not a voice in the wilderness, by any means. Also for those of you who say, well since there’s no known substitute for lead, how on earth could it be banned. I refer you to a number of bills before Congress that would permit the EPA to ban any product if it is determined that its
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