One famous scientist wound up accidentally killing nearly a million people, including himself.
Look, we’ve all messed up here and there but you can’t really chalk killing almost a million people up to experience.
So, how did chemist Thomas Midgley Jr. accidentally kill loads of people, exacerbate climate change and basically screw us all over?
Well, he invented leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs).
For anyone scientifically challenged (us), CFCs are compounds used in aerosols and fridges that are super harmful to the ozone layer.
Yep, Thomas pretty much f****d the climate over twice, with environmental historian JR McNeill saying that ‘Midgley had more adverse impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history’.
Which one individual changed the world the most? For my money, it’s a little known chemist called Thomas Midgley Jr.
He invented leaded petrol. Then, realising it might be harmful, moved into refrigeration… and invented CFCs. pic.twitter.com/8jjRACMgmp
— Dr Kit Chapman (@ChemistryKit) April 15, 2020
Not exactly what you want to be remembered for, and if you’re wondering how his inventions contributed to the deaths of millions, have you ever heard of lead poisoning?
To make matters worse, when Thomas started selling leaded gasoline, it was marketed under the name ‘Ethyl’ and had no mention of the incredibly harmful side effects.
These could include everything from irritability, fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain, vomiting, memory loss, and even death.
However, the side effects seemed to be the last thing on Thomas’ mind as he saw the earning potential of a long-lasting fuel product.
He’s reported as having said about his invention in 1923: “Can you imagine how much money we’re going to make with this? We’re going to make 200 million dollars, maybe even more.”
And while the invention made Thomas a lot of money it had a devastating impact on the whole population.
The World Health Organisation said: “The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated that in 2019, lead exposure accounted for 900 000 deaths and 21.7 million years of healthy life lost (disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs) worldwide due to long-term effects on health.”
Luckily for us, the use of leaded gasoline is being phased out, with WHO adding: “Encouragingly, the successful phasing out of leaded gasoline in most countries, together with other lead control measures, has resulted in a significant decline in population-level blood lead concentrations.”
While leaded fuel is being phased out the use of CFCs is still prevalent and contributing to killing the planet, so Thomas’ impact on earth is still, regrettably, being felt.