How One Man Accidentally Killed The Most People In History

Shola Lee

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How One Man Accidentally Killed The Most People In History

Featured Image Credit: GL Archive / Alamy Stock Photo / United States. Office for Emergency Management

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?

Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

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'.

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?

Yep, one man invented leaded petrol and popularised the use of CFCs. Credit: Tamer Adel / Alamy Stock Photo
Yep, one man invented leaded petrol and popularised the use of CFCs. Credit: Tamer Adel / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

After developing super harmful fuel, Thomas went on to popularise the use of CFCs in fridges and other products killing the environment. Credit: Barry King / Alamy Stock Photo
After developing super harmful fuel, Thomas went on to popularise the use of CFCs in fridges and other products killing the environment. Credit: Barry King / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Topics: Community, Science, News, World News, Climate Change, True crime

Shola Lee
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