Monday, July 5, 2021

History of lead poisoning

It is believed that mankind has used lead for over 6000 years. Lead mining probably predated the Bronze or Iron Ages, with the earliest recorded lead mine in Turkey about 6500 BC. The lead industry, though, did not truly begin until after about 3500 BC, when a new method of extracting silver from lead ore created a surplus.

Lead’s toxicity was recognized and recorded as early as 2000 BC. A Greek physician described the symptoms of lead poisoning in the second century B.C. Later, other physicians described the clinical manifestations of lead poisoning, but many failed to make a connection between the symptoms and the causative agent.

Hippocrates related gout to the food and wine, though the association between gout and lead poisoning was not recognized during this period (450-380 BC). The first clear descriptions of lead toxicity dated back to the second century BC, when the Hellenistic physician Nicander of Colophon identified the acute effects associated with high-dose exposure (paralysis and saturnine colic).

The Romans were aware that lead could cause serious health problems, even madness and death. However, they were so fond of its diverse uses that they minimized the hazards it posed. Lead was everywhere for the elite in ancient Rome, with the empire at its peak using around 80,000 tons of lead per year.

In 1473, the German physician, Ulrich Ellenbog (1440-1499) pointed out to the goldsmiths and metalworkers the benefit of preventive measures to avoid poisoning and subsequent death arising from lead and mercury; he practically advised them "to keep the windows open" and "to cover the mouth with a rag" while working with metals.

It was acknowledged in the early 1900s that lead-containing paint was a main source of lead poisoning among children. Observations that workers in the lead trade had problems with sterility, abortion, stillbirth, and premature delivery prompted a British Royal Commission in 1910 to recommend that women be excluded from the lead trades.

Lead poisoning in children was first described in 1892 in Australia by Gibson, an ophthalmologist, who had identified the source of lead and its probable route of entry in to children.
History of lead poisoning

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