It had several names “Big Ben” isn’t the only name
#1 In 1924 employees at the Standard Oil refinery were horrified by the strange actions of their colleagues in the New Jersey plant. They became afraid to go to work, scared by colleagues suffering memory loss, slurring and a loss of co-ordination. Some failed to recognize their friends – or even where they were.
#2 Whatever it was affected people differently – some workers began to twitch uncontrollably, some had terrifying hallucinations and some experienced fits of psychotic rage.
#3 Rumors began. Locals started to call it the ‘Looney Gas Building’ and dubbed another plant: ‘The House of Butterflies’ as the workers there experienced terrifying hallucinations that they were covered in swarms of insects.
#4 It got worse. Workers were removed in strait-jackets, screaming and babbling. One man went psychotic at his workstation running in terror claiming that he was being attacked by “three of them coming at me at once.” Later that night a worker jumped from his window, while a third went so violently insane that it took four policeman to get him into a straitjacket. The toll was rising – by October nearly fifty workers had become sick and five were dead.
#5 When Standard Oil’s manager spoke to the New York Times his response at damage limitation was absolutely priceless: he claimed that the men had simply had too much enthusiasm for their jobs and had worked themselves into insanity or death!
#6 The state was unconvinced and tasked the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office to investigate; their lungs, bones and brains proved they had suffered acute lead poisoning. It came from the new leaded gasoline element that they were handling – tetraethyl lead (TEL). Their masks did not filter properly and it had also absorbed through their hands.
#7 The headlines blared: “Odd Gas Kills One Makes Four Insane” and the state suspended TEL production. It referred the safety review to one Thomas Midgley, Jr. Hardly impartial, he was the developer of the process and the vice president of the very same General Motors Chemical Company who were supervising the TEL production!
#8 Unbelievably the workers got the blame again – this time Midgley told the press that the workers had failed to act responsibly and through ignorance or laziness had simply failed to protect themselves! In a reckless publicity stunt he washed his hands in a bucket of TEL, insisting it was safe: “I’m taking no chances whatever.”
#9 In this he proved his own case about worker loyalty replacing common sense – he was literally putting his life in his hands and he knew it. He had already taken a leave of absence from work after being diagnosed with lead poisoning himself.