"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search

LEAD. Lead, the mineral upon which the mining industry of Dubuque was based, was originally used in the manufacture of pewter in coookware, pipes, weights, paint and ammunition for firearms. (1)

found years later to be a significant health hazard. Lead-based paints were banned nationwide in 1978 because of health concerns. In 1992 Iowa was the first rural state to receive funding from the Centers for Disease Control for child lead poisoning prevention. (2)

In 1994 it was announced that 9 of every 100 children in Dubuque had more lead in their blood than federal officials considered safe. This percentage was slightly higher than the 7% statewide because of the age of Dubuque's housing. City officials planned to use a $55,7881 state grant to help parents protect their children by helping to find sources of home lead poisoning. City health officials were planning to work with homeowners while city housing officials were working with landlords. Compliance in 1994, however, was only voluntary. (3)

Lead, a naturally occurring metal found within the ground, occurs in small amounts in ore, along with other elements such as silver, zinc or copper. Even though it's found in small amounts, there is an abundant supply of lead. Because it is widespread, easy to extract and easy with which to work, lead was later used in a wide variety of products including: (4)


It was perhaps the relationship of lead and gasoline that affected the most people. Automobiles dramatically changed life in the United States with their invention in the late nineteenth century. One of the negatives of automobiles, however, was a persistent and loud knocking sound from the engines.

In 1916 Charles F. Kettering, founder of Delco, hired Thomas Midgley, Jr. to eliminate the persistent knocking sound. Midgley discovered that the knocking sound was caused by the gasoline being produced in the United States. Placing tetraethyl lead additives into the gasoline eliminated the knocking sound. Midgley patented this new version of gasoline, ethyl gasoline, on December 9, 1921.

Unfortunately, the lead caused deposits to form on engine valves, causing engines to quit operating. Midgley then added ethylene dibromide to ethyl gasoline, which prevented the lead deposits. This new version of ethyl gasoline was sold for the first time on February 2, 1923 in Dayton, Ohio. Leaded gasoline proved harmful for the environment; today leaded fuel is no longer used. (5)

Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. Blood lead levels less than 10 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) are associated with increased behavioral effects, delayed puberty, and decreases in hearing, cognitive performance, and postnatal growth or height. Some of these health effects are found even at low blood lead levels less than 5 μg/dL, including lower IQ scores, decreased academic achievement, and increases in both behavioral problems and attention-related behaviors. There is a wide range of lead-associated behavioral effects in the area of attention. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one example on the more severe end of the spectrum.

Lead can still be found in lead-based paint used in older homes, contaminated soil, household dust, drinking water pumped through leaded pipes, lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery, airplane fuel, some toys, and some inexpensive metal jewelry. Until 1978, lead paint was commonly used on the interior and exterior of homes. Deteriorated lead paint in older housing remains the most common source of lead exposure for children in the United States.

Lead can get into your body through breathing it in or by eating it. For example, lead can enter the body through eating or inhaling paint dust or chips. The soil around your home can pick up lead from sources such as exterior paint. Lead can also enter your drinking water through your plumbing.

Since 1980, federal and state regulatory standards have helped to minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in consumer products and occupational settings.

No amount of lead is safe. Eliminating all lead exposure in our environment is our best course of action. New findings from NIEHS-supported grantees, as well as the NTP have found many adverse health effects in both children and adults at blood lead levels below 10 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) and for some below 5 μg/dL.

Children under the age of 6 years old are at an increased risk for lead exposure, due to their rapid rate of growth and their tendency to place toys and other objects in their mouths that could contain lead or leaded dust. This is particularly true of children living below the poverty line in older housing.

These findings add to the body of evidence that have led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012 to now advise that any child with more than 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood to be considered at risk and that public health actions should be initiated.

Lead exposure has been linked to a number of health effects in adults. As a general rule, the more lead you have in your body, the more likely it is you’ll have health problems. High blood lead levels greater than 15 μg/dL are associated with cardiovascular effects, nerve disorders, decreased kidney function, and fertility problems, including delayed conception and adverse effects on sperm and semen, such as lower sperm counts and motility.

Blood lead levels below10 μg/dL are associated with decreased kidney function and increases in blood pressure, hypertension, and incidence of essential tremor, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system whose most recognizable feature is a tremor of the arms or hands during voluntary movements, such as eating and writing. There is also evidence showing that adults who have low levels of exposure to lead less than 5 μg/dL may have decreased kidney function. Pregnant women need to be particularly careful around lead. Maternal blood lead levels less than 5 μg/dL are associated with reduced fetal growth. Because the effects of lead are different for everyone, more research needs to be done to fully understand the health effects. A 2004 study, supported by NIEHS, also showed that lifetime lead exposure may increase the risk of developing cataracts,3 a clouding of the eye lens resulting in partial loss of vision, which can be common in older people.

Most adults with elevated blood lead levels are exposed to lead at work. Those in occupations related to mining, ironwork or welding, construction, renovation and remodeling activities, smelters, firing ranges, the manufacture and disposal of car batteries, automobile radiator repair, metal shop work, and the manufacture of pottery or stained glass are particularly at risk for lead exposure. (6)



1. Klein, Robert F., Julien Dubuque--Portrait of a Pioneer, Dubuque, IA, Loras College Press, 2021, p. 15

2. "War on Lead Poisoning 20 Years Old," Telegraph Herald, April 1, 1994, p. 3A

3. Eiler, Donnelle. "City to Help Identify Lead Exposure Risks," Telegraph Herald, February 22, 1994, p. 1

4. "Lead," National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Online: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/lead/

5. "Ethyl Gasoline," Ohio History Connection. Online: https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Ethyl_Gasoline

6. "Lead..."