Lead is a heavy metal that is silvery grey in colour. It is known for it’s relatively low melting point, ductility (ability to be stretched without being damaged), and density. It is a combination of these properties as well as the low-cost and abundance of lead, and it’s association with silver (they could be extracted from the same Ore) that created such great use in history.
• Dating back to approximately 7000 BCE metallic beads of lead have been found in Asia
• Ancient Egyptians were the first to use lead in cosmetics
• Lead was used in the Ancient Chinese royal court as a stimulant, currency and a contraceptive
• Also found in pharmaceuticals, roofing, water piping, writing utensils, warfare, gutters, statues, ornaments
• Beginning around the 13th century lead was used in the production of stained glass
• “From the Middle Ages on, people put lead acetate or "sugar of lead" into wine and other foods to make them sweeter” Source
What have we learned?
With heavy lead use throughout the Roman Empire it is believed that lead may have been the cause of Julius Caesar only fathering one child and Caesar Augustus being completely sterile. The beginning of discoveries regarding the harmful affects of lead were developing as far back as Ancient Rome, however their useful properties kept it in heavy use and production for several hundred years.
Lead is still used in products we use worldwide today; however extensive research has created strict guidelines on when and where lead can be used. In 2000, the lead industry in Europe actually volunteered to do a risk assessment costing them roughly 4 million euros giving them the ability to establish any potential risks that still existed in public health, workplace health, and the environment. Source
With lead being used in many products still manufactured today it definitely gives us reason to be grateful for the guidelines put in place regarding hazardous materials. Imagine we were still using lead to make our utensils? or our pharmaceuticals? What an eye-opener to the importance of being aware of the various hazardous products we are in contact with everyday in OUR workplace.
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