We were watching “Cosmos” over the long weekend (yes, we are very behind on our DVR!) and learned a lot about the history of lead poisoning and one of the ways lead became such a problem in 20th Century America.
Did you know…when radioactive metals decay, eventually their molecules become lead, which is how Clair Patterson determined the age of the earth at 4.5 billion years. It’s no wonder alchemists thought they could turn lead into other metals–other metals had been turning into lead forever.
Lead is plentiful, easy to shape and inexpensive, so it had many uses in ancient Rome: cooking pots, artificial sweetener, linings of kettles for winemaking, baths and the water pipes for their famous aqueducts. Some experts believe lead poisoning was a significant factor in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire itself. In “Cosmos” we learned that the Romans knew very well that lead was toxic, but that they thought the people with the highest exposure–slaves mostly–were expendable.
Of course, today we know there is no safe level of exposure to lead and the Romans were all affected by its use when they drank wine or water, bathed in communal baths, cooked their food. It’s hard to believe they knew of lead’s dangers but did not take them seriously, unless you look at more recent history.
Lead was added to gasoline as an anti-knock agent in the 1920’s. The fuel industry paid experts to say that the lead in gasoline was harmless and they were believed for many years until Clair Patterson found that the lead levels in shallow sea waters were hundreds of times higher than in deep water, indicating very recent changes. The lead in our gasoline was entering our environment at an alarming rate.
Think about car exhaust, even today, and lead becomes a scary thought. Particles entering the air and landing on streets, on lawns, on reservoirs, on farms, on crops, on grass being eaten by livestock destined for American dinner tables, not to mention being breathed every day.
We were also using lead in paint, which is still a problem in older homes today. If your home was built before 1978, it could harbor lead paint. No peeling paint, you say? What about window and door jambs? Layers of lead-based paint that have been covered by other paints can still create lead dust when you open doors and windows, or during renovations.
There is no safe level of exposure to lead. Don’t take any chances with your older home. Call Alliance for help!