Chances Are, You Had Toxic Lead Levels as a Kid

The startling data comes from a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE
Elemental

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I have always been darkly fascinated by lead. As a nephrologist, I would occasionally come across a case of what we still call saturnine gout — gout due to lead toxicity — in the occasional moonshiner, a result of distilling alcohol in old, lead-lined car radiators.

It was the Romans, of course, who associated lead with Saturn — those with too much lead exposure were thought to exhibit the characteristics of the God — dark, somber, slow.

In fact, in contrast to the popular conception that the Romans poisoned their empire to death through lead piping and plates, it seems fairly clear that they were aware of its potential toxicity. Vitruvius argued for the use of terracotta pipes, instead of lead ones, in the first century BC.

Of course, sometimes it seems that we haven’t learned much since then, as the Flint water crisis reminds us.

And now this paper, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the impact of lead exposure will continue long, long into the future.

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F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE
Elemental

Medicine, science, statistics. Associate Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Yale. New book “How Medicine Works and When it Doesn’t” available now.