Background Information On Lead

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lead is defined as "a heavy soft malleable bluish white metal that is alo an element. It is found mostly in combination and used especially in pipes, cable sheaths, batteries, solder, type metal, and shields against radioactivity" (Webster's Dictionary, 1987). While the whole population is (and has been) exposed to lead at some level, some subgroups are at a very high risk. Lead poisoning is and has been a serious problem for children and some adults. Since ancient times, man has used lead for making pipe, paint pigments, and ceramics. industrial growth resulted in the utilization of lead in literally thousands of products. Because of its plasticity and softness, lead can be rolled into sheets and foil. It can be made into rods, pipes and tube containers. Lead is used in building construction for roofing, cornices, tank linings, electrical conduits, water pipes and sewer pipes. It is used for yacht keels, plumb bobs and sinkers in diving suits. Lead alloys are used for accumulation plates, cable coverings, ornamental coatings and the filling for bullets for small arms. Soft solder, used for soldering tin plates, lead pipes and copper pipes, is an alloy of lead. In other eras, lead poisoning was referred to as plumbism, saturnism, colic, dry gripes, dry bellyache and potter's palsy. At one time only the acute and some of the chronic manifestations of lead poisoning were recognized. In the past 25 years research on more subtle subclinical effects of lead started to gain acceptance. Ancient man used lead without understanding its toxic properties. He mined and reduced lead from ores by smelting. The first known lead object dates from 6500 B.C. and was a statue found in Turkey. Leaden objects have been found in Egyptian tombs. In Greece lead had a variety of uses. It was used as a component of water pipes and solder, and lead ore was a source of silver by the process called cupellation as early as 4000 B.C. It was also used to glaze pottery. The ruling class most likely suffered lead poisoning from storing wine and water in lead-lined vessels. Hippocrates in 370 B.C. described a severe attack of colic in a man who extracted metals and recognized lead as a cause of the symptoms, but in general the disease received little attention in ancient times. When occupational lead poisoning occurred, it was ignored because most workers were slaves. Lead is one of the oldest pigment and paint bases known to man still in use. The Romans used lead extensively as a pigment and paint base. They used lead to sweeten their wine because of its minty sweet flavor, for eating utensils and to line their aqueducts. There exist strong correlations between the decline and fall of the Roman Empire due to lowered birth rates and increased mental disturbances among the ruling class and lead poisoning. Many historians credit the fall of the Roman Empire to lead poisoning. During the middle ages lead was used for cistern pipes, roofing, extraction of silver and gold from copper, glazing pottery and making clear glass. The economic and technological development of this period is reflected in the fact that lead poisoning then affected miners and metal workers. Bernardino Ramazzini, the father of occupational medicine, wrote in 1700 A.D. of fifty-four different occupations associated with lead poisoning and described some of them in the section concerning potters and printers. "During this process (i.e., potting) or again when they use tongs to daub the pots with molten lead before putting them into the furnace, their mouths, nostrils and the whole body take in the lead poison that has been melted and dissolved in water: hence, they are soon attacked by grievous maladies. First their hands become palsied, they then become paralytic, splenetic, lethargic and toothless so that one rarely sees a potter whose face is not cadaverous and the color of lead." With regard to treatment of workers, Ramazzini noted, "it is hardly ever possible to give them any remedies that would completely restore their health for they do not ask for a helping hand from the doctor until their feet and hands are totally crippled and their internal organs have become very hard and they suffer from another drawback. I mean they are very poor." Today's victims often suffer from the same drawback. Ben Franklin also described the toxic effects of lead in the 1700's. He indicated that the adverse effects had been known for at least 60 years and questioned why they had not been made public knowledge. The earliest legislation banning the use of lead for health reasons in the continental US was written in, Massachusetts. In the early 1700's while Massachusetts was still a colony of England. The practice of lining rum kegs with lead was outlawed by royal decree. The ban was issued after the colonists in Virginia became sick from drinking the run shipped in lead lined barrels from Massachusetts. The symptoms of their illnesses included head aches, severe colic (upset stomach) and loss of sensation in their hands and feet (the droops). These symptoms are consistent with those of lead poisoning. In 1906 Australia outlawed the use of lead paint in residences

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