How much lead?

New Scientist, 22 September 1983:

It is the right of every scientist to criticise the work of others, and Peter Elwood’s recent contribution to the lead debate (“Labs accused of deplorable conduct in lead debate”, 8 September, p. 671) takes issue with virtually every major study of the past decade. Whilst it is true that no study can be epidemiologically perfect, most of the studies mentioned in your article are far more reliable than those emanating from Elwood’s laboratory. To give but one example; earlier this year Elwood obtained considerable publicity by claiming that blood-lead levels in a remote traffic-free island in the Irish Sea were only slightly lower than those found on the UK mainland. From this it was concluded that petrol lead cannot be an important contributor to human lead intake. However, what Elwood did not say, was that the islanders have a very much increased reliance on tinned food, a well-known source of dietary lead which would invalidate any meaningful comparison between the two populations in terms of petrol lead. Elwood’s selective use of these data casts serious doubt on his scientific credibility. His recent contributions to the lead debate have nothing to restore his reputation as an epidemiologist.

Robin Russell Jones
Campaign for Lead-free Air
London N1