I was able to spend a little time last week with former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency R. James Woolsey. I reported his take on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, as well as on Islamism, oil, and Hawaii, here. He was in Hawaii last week to speak at the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Expo.

He's easily the most interesting and wry former CIA Director I've met.

Woolsey quoted some research by former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray. Gray's research, published in the Texas Review of Law and Politics, concerns the decades-old substitution of the aromatic benzene as a replacement for lead to prevent "knocking" or premature detonation in gasoline engines. The report (in PDF format) can be found here.

Woolsey suggested that the next time you fill up your gas tank and smell that "sweet smell," realize that it's benzene -- it's "the smell of cancer" and "the smell of cardiopulmonary disease."

Gray's research places the cost of benzene's health consequences as ranging from $64 billion to $250 billion.

Woolsey also suggests that one solution can be seen by looking toward Brazil's ethanol economy and their flex-fuel vehicles. Alternatives like ethanol, while not without their drawbacks, would at least pivot us away from enriching people in the Mideast who hate the U.S., according to Woolsey. Switching to an ethanol solution, according to the former CIA Director, would merely require an inexpensive modification to automobile fuel lines.

I would suggest that ethanol usage opens up the food-for-fuel debate, remains expensive because if made from corn it requires fossil fuel-based fertilizer, and still has pipeline and delivery issues.

The Cato Institute takes issue with Gray's findings.