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The Evolution of Consumerism and Environmental Health

dutch boy ad

It’s hard to believe that doctors were once pictured in cigarette advertisements, but it was a common practice in the 1950s. While it may seem obvious today that smoking is not a healthy habit (although it may be trendy to some), cigarettes are sold at almost every gas station and grocery store. Luckily, however, some widely used products in the 50s’ and 60s’ are no longer available for purchase due to the discovery of their harmful properties.


Two products we often encounter during our work are lead-based paint and asbestos. Lead is a naturally occurring metal used throughout history for many purposes and products, such as construction, batteries, ammunition, paint, and more.

Lead is now known to be toxic to humans, especially children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Children are significantly more prone to lead poising. Their development can be affected by lead products. If you are concerned about lead exposure with your children, watch for slowed growth, nervous system damage, and behavioral problems. Additional products that once contained lead include toys, plumbing materials, gasoline, batteries, and cosmetics.

Clearly, there would have never been a market for these lead-containing products if they had no benefits or admirable qualities. Lead paint created more vivid pigments, corrosion resistance, and quick drying. The federal government banned lead-based paint for residential use in 1978. Who knows how many cans of extra lead paint being stored in residential garages were used later on? I probably still have some acrylic paint in my craft drawer from middle school.

Here are some advertisements for lead-based paint that your grandparents may have seen:

There’s nothing scarier than advertising a harmful product to the most affected demographic…

$2.85 a gallon for lead-based paint? That’s cheaper than a cheeseburger today! But you should probably only be eating one of those things.


Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that has been used for many purposes, such as the construction of building materials. Asbestos is considered harmful for humans as the loose fibers can become lodged in lung tissues leading to diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Like lead paint, asbestos was used in abundance as it has many desirable characteristics. Asbestos was popular because it was considered affordable, durable, weatherproof, and fireproof.

Asbestos regulations began in the United States in 1973, and limits on its use have continued to be implemented. Asbestos use ceased in most US products and industries after the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 led to more regulation and safer work environments.

Let’s take a blast to the past, where you can find an abundance of advertisements for asbestos and asbestos-containing building materials:

We can help this “magic” mineral in your home “disappear!”

Check out this advertisement for asbestos building materials. Some quotes from the video I would like to point out are:

“Asbestos cement roofing has made buildings safer and more durable.”

“Designed for a lifetime; a trouble-free lifetime.”

“Safe” and “trouble-free” aren’t words we would use to describe asbestos today.

Lead-based paint and asbestos were not the only substances used in the past that had adverse health effects on humans and the environment. Other advertisements for these harmful substances include the infamous insecticide DDT, medicines with now illicit drugs, claims of alcohol and sugar being good for your health, cosmetics with arsenic and radium, and many more.

Problematic Practices

Not only were harmful products used before the general public knew of their adverse properties, but environmentally harmful practices were also a more common occurrence. I want to share some advertisements for not-so-great environmental practices from the past:

We strongly recommend recycling used oil at hazardous-waste collection sites or local auto parts stores to avoid environmental issues and fines.

Doing this will not give someone super-charged fire powers. Please don’t do this, as modern batteries can release toxic fumes when burned.

Many harmful products and practices have been discouraged and banned thanks to extensive research in toxicology, medicine, and the environmental field. Humans will inevitably make more discoveries to improve their health and the environment. Our goal at Aegis is to guarantee that our staff uses safe work practices and stays up to date on environmental regulations and standards. Please feel free to give us a call and speak to one of our safety experts if you have any questions about environmental safety in your home or workplace!

Our office phone number is (317) 833-9000 and our business hours are 8 am to 5 pm.


Mya Smith, Project Manager
I appreciate the unique opportunities Aegis Environmental, Inc and my clients have provided me. Phase I ESAs and Phase IIs allow me to spend more time outside, which I thoroughly enjoy while helping others understand the environmental statuses of properties. Thanks to the training offered to me by Aegis, I have become a licensed lead inspector, a licensed asbestos inspector, and I am OSHA certified. I enjoy live music, skating, and working on creative projects outside of work.

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