Clean Hands Clair Patterson’s Crusade against Environmental Lead Contamination

Humanity is obliged to pay dearly for the excesses it had been committing on the Nature. The title of the book reveals something tangible about the need to reverse some of the trends which human beings have accepted as the contributing factors to the welfare of the society. “Clean Hands: Clair Patterson’s Crusade against Environmental Lead Contamination,” edited by Cliff I Davidson, brings to the fore stunning factors that have contributed to the damaging consequences for the overall health of human beings, animal kingdom and to the flora and fauna.

My selection of this book is to acquaint my self fully as for our responsibilities to the Nature. The benevolent Mother Nature, the ever-giving Nature also expects something from the receivers of its bounty. If the present trends are allowed to continue, God forbid, atom bombs and other nuclear arsenal are not necessary to destroy humanity. The life forces of Nature that sustain humanity are being contaminated   to such an extent, that we shall workout our own extinction, without a shot being fired. The subject matter of the novel is geochemistry and the contents of the book are the wake-up call for human beings.

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     With a career in geochemistry lasting for about 40 years, Clair Cameron “Pat” Patterson (1922-1995), saw the spectacular evolution beginning with the nuclear chemistry to the dangerous awareness of the mankind about his place in the global environment. Earlier the scientists, encouraged by the unscrupulous politicians, and the industrial magnates, to whom aggrandizement of wealth was the sole concern, thought they are born to conquer Nature and for that they can adopt any ‘scientific’ procedures.

To scientists like Dr. Patterson, who were not enamored with personal glory, but wished to guide evolution of an important field, the priorities were different. To some life is mission and to many the goal of life is ‘commission’ (profiteering by using all means, fair or fowl.)His research and the corroborating views affected the peer heritage in the field of trace element geochemistry. As a boy and as an inquisitive and concerned graduate at Chicago, he witnessed the implementation of the Manhattan project, his deep concern about the trace element pollution that has spread and engulfed the entire globe began to find expression vocally and through articles. He pleaded that man’s functioning in the Global Commons is fundamentally wrong and it will adversely affect the future of the mankind.


Dr. Patterson was a scientist, but he had the spiritualist’s concern for the welfare of mankind. He was the first to accurately date the age of the Earth and in the process he discovered the ubiquitous presence of lead in the air/atmosphere. He had to prove this before the contending scientists and his novel experiment-supported views encountered tough opposition from them as well as the vested interests of the corporate community. His role was crucial in the eventual passage of the Clean Air Act.

Before the passage of this Act what was the position in America? “Before he battled for sanctions against lead, Americans fueled their cars with leaded gasoline, ate food and drank milk from lead-soldered cans, stored drinking water in lead-lined tanks, and transported it through lead-soldered pipes. Americans also squeezed toothpaste from lead-lined tubes and poured wine from bottles sealed with lead-covered corks. Before the 1960s, Americans ingested a total of about 20 tons of lead each year. Thanks to Patterson and his discovery of global pollution, lead has been taken out of the American diet.”(Contributing…)

Personal Reaction:

The materialistic civilization impacted by the industrial and internet revolution, have changed the thought processes and consequently action processes of human beings. Consumerism has given more prominence to the attractive containers than the contents. That is to say, on the basis of glamorous advertisements and sales campaigns initiated by the profit-mongering multinational giants, children and the combustible younger generation eat and drink anything that arrives in the market in the name of soft drinks. One does not apply one’s mind whether it is good for the health or not! Just because it is tasty it is accepted. Human beings have rejected nature and have embraced artificiality and now they are paying the price for their arrogance.

Man has since realized how dangerous it is to confront Nature in an unfair manner. The repercussions of reckless felling of trees and the destruction of the forest wealth for example! This has resulted in scanty rainfall on the one hand, and flashfloods on the other! The chemicals used in whitening clothes, soaps, fertilizers, synthetic textiles and pesticides have begun to show their destructive effects on the soil/ground water, pollution and contamination has increased and new diereses unheard in the recent past, have begun to  demand their toll. Chemistry, the scientists and industrialists promoting it, have contributed much to shape the society, but unfortunately at many wrong ends. This has contributed to research in fresh areas—to identify and solve the consequential problems related to the side effects of reckless consumer products. Scientists like Dr. Patterson have rendered yeoman service by identifying such serious issues that have been affecting the vitals of human health.  The book under review is his  everlasting gift to the welfare of humanity.


Lead is the leader among the destructive chemical agents and Dr. Patterson did the right service to humanity at the right time when the use of chemicals for consumer products has been accepted as a rule by the manufacturers. The problem with lead is it is “. Odorless, colorless and tasteless, lead can be detected only through chemical analysis. Unlike such carcinogens and killers as pesticides, most chemicals, waste oils and even radioactive materials, lead does not break down over time.

It does not vaporize, and it never disappears.”(The Secret…)Before the Clean Air Act was passed, the twentieth century United States had burnt 7 million tons of lead in gasoline. Lead has established its authority in the soil, air and water and in the bodies of living organisms. The listing of dangerous diseases as a result of acute lead poisoning is awesome-brain damage, blindness, kidney disease, and cancer, to mention a few. Children are the main victims. Lead exposure to pregnant women is a serious issue that is likely to result in miscarriage.

Reference Cited:

  • Davidson, Cliff I (Editor): Clean Hands:: Clair Patterson’s Crusade Against Environmental Lead
  • Hardcover: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Nova Science Publishers (April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560725680
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560725688
  • Contributing Chemists Clean Hands: Clair Patterson’s Crusade against Environmental Lead Contamination Cliff I. Davidson (Ed.). Nova Science Publishers, 1998. …
  • – Retrieved on August 1, 2008
  • The Secret History of Lead Jamie Lincoln Kitman / The Nation 20mar00… Clair Patterson’s Role in Stopping It,” in Cliff Davidson, ed.,
  • – 60k – Retrieved on August 1, 2008

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Clean Hands Clair Patterson’s Crusade against Environmental Lead Contamination. (2016, Sep 26). Retrieved from