– VERMEULEN Frans
Then rose the seed of Chaos and of Night
To blot out order and extinguish light.
Of dull and venal a new world to mould,
And bring Saturnian days of lead and gold.
[Pope, Dunciad, IV, 13]
Plumbum metallicum. Lead.
CLASSIFICATION Lead belongs to group 14 of the periodic table, along with carbon, silicon, germanium, and tin. The heaviest member of the group, lead is a soft, bluish-white or greyish metal. The metal was known in antiquity and believed by the alchemists to be the oldest metal and associated with the planet Saturn. Lead carbonate, known as white lead, was widely used in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Rarely found free in nature, lead is present in such minerals as galena, anglesite, cerussite, pyromorphite, and minim. The most important lead ore, galena or lead glance, is found in either hydrothermal veins [in association with silver] or in limestones [in association with zinc]. Natural lead is a mixture of four stable isotopes, of which Pb-208 is the most common one. Lead isotopes are the end products of each of the three series of naturally occurring radioactive elements: Pb-206 for the uranium series, Pb-207 for the actinium series, and Pb-208 for the thorium series. 1 Lead has more radioactive isotopes, natural and artificial, than any other element. In the phenomenon of radioactivity we are faced with the first traces of ‘devolution’, of decomposition. “Uranium and thorium, which are substances of the highest density, are also starting points for decomposing processes, for the disappearance of matter. The stages of radioactive decomposition emanating from them show constant transmutation of matter into other elements, where on the one hand matter disappears, is destroyed, and on the other hand non-material types of radiation, imponderables, are released. Basic substances of lesser density are thereby formed as transitions in the disintegration, among them repeated variations [isotopes] of radioactive lead, until finally the entire process of radioactive decay comes to an end with the formation of non-radioactive lead – at least in the present phase of earth activity. [In contemplating these phenomena one is tempted to say that lead is actually not a substance but a condition, a latent process.] The older the radioactive ore, the more lead it must contain. Lead is the sign of its age.”2
HISTORY Archaeological discoveries as well as ancient texts prove that the mining and smelting of lead goes back to around 6500 BC. The Egyptians reportedly used lead as early as 5000 BC to glaze pottery and make solder and ornamental artefacts. The Phoenicians are known to have used lead to weight their wooden anchors, which they later replaced by silver after they found more silver than they could transport in Spain. Of great historical importance was the use of lead by the Romans, who conveyed their drinking water through lead pipes, and overindulged in wine and sapa [concentrated grape juice] contaminated by lead. As an additional source of the element, the Roman aristocracy liberally employed lead-containing cosmetic paints. The drinking water in ancient Rome was rich in carbon dioxide, which reacts with lead to form lead carbonate which readily dissolves in water. Owing to the chronic lead poisoning the average life span of Roman aristocrats was not more than 35 years. “The suggestion that lead poisoning was the major cause of the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century was first made by Gilfillan in 1965 and has since been developed by other medical historians. There is little doubt that the aristocracy declined in numbers and intellectual ability. Though the fall in the birth rate can be explained in many ways, the well-documented prevalence of sterility, miscarriages, stillbirths and infant mortality is consistent with a diagnosis of epidemic lead poisoning. … Lead poisoning was certainly known in ancient times, as an occupational hazard among workers engaged in the mining and smelting of the ores. [The Roman civil engineer Vitrivius referred in his writing to the poor colour of the lead workers, noting that the fumes from molten lead destroy the ‘vigour of the blood’.] But the Roman physicians were more concerned about the increasing prevalence of podagra, an affliction now known as gout. The causes of this disease were commonly identified as drunkenness, gluttony and general debauchery. The possibility of an association with lead poisoning was not perceived in Rome and, indeed, was not confirmed until 1859, when Sir Alfred Garrod reported that between a quarter and a third of the many patients whom he treated for gout were plumbers or painters and were suffering from lead poisoning.”3 Having no cane sugar, the Romans used sapa for sweetening. Sapa was used in cookery – the cookery book written by Apicius mentions 85 recipes with it -, as well as in making wine and other beverages. The boiling down of sapa was done in lead pots and strips of lead were sometimes put into the juice to retard fermentation. Wine makers used sapa to improve the quality of wines and extend their life. Sapa had a very high lead content for the organic acids present in grape juice dissolved the lead from the pots. Many of the salts formed in this way have a sweet taste; lead acetate, for example, was known as sugar of lead. [Lead acetate is now also known as ‘salt of Saturn’.] “Pure sapa was eaten neat by Roman prostitutes deliberately to produce abortions, and for another reason: it gave them an attractive pale complexion. The Romans suspected sapa was deleterious to their health, but they continued to use it. It was reputed to make people tired and listless, anaemic, constipated and infertile. … Modern analysts have demonstrated that sapa would have had 1,000 parts per million of lead [0.1%]. Beautiful white crystals of lead salts could be grown from sapa, and these tasted very sweet. … Sapa did all that it was reputed to do. It sweetened food, it preserved wine by killing bacteria, it caused abortions because of the lead, and it produced pale complexions because a feature of chronic lead poisoning is anaemia. What the Romans did not realize, however, were other side effects of a high lead intake, which are constipation, stomach pains, muscular weakness and headaches. The reputed infertility of the upper classes is now thought to have been due to sapa.”4
GRADES Almost half of all refined lead is recovered from recycled scrap. Refined lead usually has a purity of 99 to 99.99%. Lead refined to a purity of at least 99.94% is termed corroding lead [after the process by which it was formerly produced]. “Chemical lead, the most frequently used grade after corroding lead, is lead refined to a copper content of 0.04 to 0.08% and a silver content of 0.002 to 0.02%. This grade has a significantly improved corrosion resistance and mechanical strength and is therefore highly desirable in the chemical industry [hence its name] – particularly for piping and as a lining material. Common lead is fully refined and desilvered lead, with low copper content. Acid lead, made by adding copper to fully refined lead, differs from chemical lead primarily in its higher bismuth content. Two other grades of lead are arsenical lead, containing about 0.15% arsenic, 0.10% tin, and 0.10% bismuth and finding use in cable sheathing, and calcium lead, containing 0.03 to 0.11% calcium, employed in lead-acid batteries and casting applications.”5
PROPERTIES Lead is very soft, highly malleable, ductile, dense, and a poor conductor of electricity. It is easily melted, cast, rolled, and extruded, and yet very resistant to corrosion and highly durable, as is indicated by the continuing use of lead water pipes bearing the insignia of Roman emperors. The low melting point has made lead the element of choice for glazed pottery. Unfortunately, lead-containing glazes are partly dissolved by acids and consequently have caused numerous lead poisonings. Freshly cut lead oxidizes quickly, forming a dull grey coating which protects the metal from further corrosion. “Similarly, although lead is soluble in dilute nitric acid, it is only superficially attacked by hydrochloric or sulphuric acids because the insoluble chloride or sulphate coatings that are formed prevent continued reaction. Because of this general chemical resistance, considerable amounts of lead are used in roofing, as coverings for electric cables placed in the ground or underwater, and as linings for water pipes and conduits and structures for the transportation and processing of corrosive substances.”6 The effectiveness of the metal as a sound absorber is utilized by placing lead sheets in the walls of buildings to block the transmission of sound, and by integrating pads of lead and asbestos in the foundations to absorb the vibrations caused by street traffic and other sources. Lead is opposite to silver in regard to sounds and tones; where silver is a superb conductor of sound [e.g. in tuning fork], lead is not a sounding metal at all, smothering every tone in dulness. Touching a sounding object with lead will instantly congeal all sound. The absorbing, dulling qualities of the metal are also confirmed by its effectiveness in absorbing electromagnetic radiation of short wavelengths, which makes it suitable for protective shielding around X-ray equipment, nuclear reactors, and radioactive materials. “Much of the nature of lead is revealed in its varied relations to warmth. In the furnace the metallic lead is easily melted out of lead glance [galena] after removal of the sulphur. The heat necessary for its liberation is slight. How much more energy is required to extract iron from its ores! When lead, in the remote past, combined with sulphur to form lead sulphide [galena], it obviously did not depart far from its metallic nature. It is akin to warmth in its metallic properties. It melts in a candle flame, at 327o C, and vaporizes at a temperature where many metals only begin to melt [1555o C]. Lead is extremely soft, so that it can be scratched with a fingernail. It is easily rolled to paper thinness or drawn into thin wire. No strong formative forces penetrate it; it remains plastic and ductile. Drawn across paper, it rubs off as a line. [The lead pencils of former times were actually made of lead.] It is easily deformed. A lead wire breaks under the slightest stress. It is, as it were, metallic clay or wax, quite capable of assuming or imitating strange forms, but unable to retain them. Lead expands vigorously when heated and contracts strongly when cooled. It responds intensely to warmth impulses by expanding into space or withdrawing from it more powerfully than any other genuine metal. Furthermore, lead is an exceptionally bad heat conductor; a bar of lead can be held in the hand at one hand, while the other end is already melting in a flame. The heat streams slowly from the hot end to the cold; it bogs down, stagnates, and becomes a marsh. Each particle of lead sucks in the heat, but only hesitatingly passes it on to the next. … To electricity, too, lead offers great resistance, which disappears only after exceptionally intense cooling, for example by means of liquid helium, although then the resistance vanishes completely. … Lead, at its normal temperature, behaves as though it were quite close to melting. Although it is solid under normal conditions, it is so strongly connected with warmth that it behaves as though it were constantly at the extreme edge of solidity.”7
USES Construction material for tank linings, piping, and other equipment handling corrosive gases and liquids used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid, petroleum refining, halogenation, sulphonation, extraction, condensation; manufacture of storage batteries; in ammunition [shots and bullets]; in various low-melting alloys [solder, type metal, pewter]; in producing fine ‘crystal glass’ and ‘flint glass’; in ceramics, plastics, and electronic devices. Until recently, tetraethyllead was widely used as a gasoline antiknock additive. Various lead compounds were once used extensively as pigments [red, white, yellow, orange] for paints. In the last decades their use has been drastically curtailed due to their toxicity and health hazards. The use of lead salts such as lead arsenate in insecticides has been practically eliminated for the same reason. Since the invention of firearms lead has been the weightiest argument in settling controversies.
SOURCES Lead is an ubiquitous metal and, moreover, it is accumulative and does not dissipate, biodegrade or decay; exposure to it is virtually unavoidable. A common cause of lead poisoning has been wine drinking. Lead oxide was used to sweeten sour wine and each bottle of port wine came with a pellet of lead shot in it until as recently as a hundred years ago. Bottles of wine were sealed with lead capsules, which only recently came to be replaced by plastic ones. Homemade beer and cider made in pewter vessels or drunk from lead-glazed earthenware jugs also contributed significant amounts of lead. There is evidence that blood lead level increases with increasing alcohol consumption; the consumption of four pints of beer per day raises the absorption of lead with about 20%. For about 60 years petrol has contained tetraethyl lead, which introduced the element into the atmosphere and then into the food chain by deposition on crop and soil dust inhalation. In the 1980s, leaded petrol accounted for about 16% of lead absorption from lungs and gut in people living in rural or suburban areas and for 30% or more for those living in inner cities. Although the progressive reduction in the lead content of petrol has improved the situation, the concentration of lead in the soil will not easily be reduced because lead is the least mobile of the heavy metals. It accumulates primarily on the surface, from where it is readily absorbed by plant roots [depending on plant type], in particular with increasing soil acidity. Plants with a high bioaccumulation character for lead include leafy vegetables [lettuce, spinach, cabbage], root vegetables [potato, carrot, onion], apple, tomato, and asparagus. Dust contains lead, less than 0.1% indoors but up to 1% or more in busy inner city streets. [In 1969, for example, atmospheric lead in Los Angeles had a concentration 30 times higher than the maximum permissible concentration of 150 mcg per cubic metre. Such extreme levels of man-made lead contamination led the Scottish physicist Lenihan to speak of ‘Our daily lead’ and inspired The Times – 23 October, 1987 – to describe the amounts of lead along the M25, within a six mile radius of Marble Arch in central London, as ‘near a level that mining companies would consider a worthwhile deposit for recovering metal.’] In 1983, a year for which global estimates happen to have been compiled, about 300,000 tons of lead may have been dispersed in the atmosphere and a million tons in the soil. Food and drinking water constitute the largest intake. Lead piping in soft-water areas [water low in calcium and magnesium salts] can give rise to levels of 108 mcg lead per litre water. But since intake of lead doesn’t equalize uptake of lead, only 10% is absorbed and 90% is excreted in the faeces or urine. In children, up to 3 years old, and pregnant women this figure is less favourable: 30-50% of the lead intake will be absorbed, in particular if associated with iron or calcium deficiencies. Children with poor nutrition are more susceptible to the effects of lead. Similarly, children with empty stomachs absorb more lead. Minor sources of lead absorption include ointments and hair dye pigments [particularly yellow], fine crystal, and calcium supplements [in particular those from bonemeal and oyster shells]. 8-11 Several folk remedies have been shown to contain large amounts of lead. Two Mexican folk remedies are azarcon and greta, which are used to treat ’empacho’, a colic-like illness. Azarcon and greta are also known as liga, Maria Luisa, alarcon, coral, and rueda. Lead-containing remedies and cosmetics used by some Asian communities are chuifong tokuwan, pay-looah, ghasard, bali goli, and kandu. Middle Eastern remedies and cosmetics include alkohl, kohl, surma, saoott, and cebagin.
PAINT From the beginning of the 20th century lead carbonate [‘white lead’] has been an important ingredient of paint. The quality of paint was determined by the amount of white lead it contained. The process for producing this type of paint was developed in Holland and became known as the ‘Dutch Process’. White lead could be tinted any colour and was used inside and out for everything from houses and barns to toys and cribs. By the 1920s, there was a worldwide movement to ban the use of white lead. By the end of that decade, most of Europe had ratified the ban. It took the Americans 50 years more to ban the use of lead paint, despite the fact that it was known as early as 1926 that eating lead paint [which tastes sweet] from toys, furniture, and woodwork was a major hazard for infants and children. “Lead-based paints were advertised as ‘self-cleaning’ because the surface of the paint’s protective film would gradually break down and turn to powder. The powder would wipe or wash off, taking dirt and stains with it. Outside, every rainstorm left the house sparkling! The paints became known as chalking paint because most houses were painted white, and the powder that rubbed off looked like chalk. Indoors, this paint was used on woodwork, baseboards, and window and door frames to make them easier to keep clean. … The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry estimates there are 57 million housing units [in the USA] that still contain some amount of lead paint. Lead-based paint manufactured before the 1950s tended to have a higher lead concentration than paint made after that. Manufacturers of white lead paints boasted of their high lead content, often containing 50% lead [500,000 ppm]. Any house or apartment unit built before World War II is almost certain to contain paint with extraordinarily high concentrations of lead.”12
TOXICOLOGY . Hippocrates recognized acute lead toxicity in ancient Greek miners. The sweetening and preserving of sour wines with lead-containing additives began with the Romans and caused severe colic, paralysis, and death until the practice was abandoned in the 18th century. Lead is an accumulative poison; the metal is retained by the body and accumulates over a long period of time. It favours the blood, the liver, the kidneys, and the brain. More than 90% of lead in blood is in red blood cells. In the brain the highest concentrations are found in the hippocampus, followed by the cerebellum, cerebral cortex, and medulla. Lead poisoning is probably the most important chronic environmental illness of modern children. Lead profoundly alters the nervous system, and thus intelligence, memory, visual retention, and dexterity. Acute poisoning occurs most often in young children with a history of pica [ingestion of dirt, paint, etc.], and consists of anorexia, vomiting, malaise, and convulsions due to increased intracranial pressure. Permanent brain damage and cognitive deficits may result. There is evidence that delayed weaning is associated with excessive pica and lead poisoning. It is commonly found that lead-poisoned children are bottle fed for protracted periods of time. “High lead exposure in children can lead to the following symptoms: loss of appetite, abdominal pain, anaemia, constipation, apathy, lethargy, vomiting, pallor, listlessness, stupor, loss of recently acquired developmental skills, hyperirritability, loss of muscular coordination, clumsiness and colic. Children who suffer from low levels of lead exposure are frequently free of symptoms. However, exposure to low levels of lead may result in decreased intelligence, decreased stature or growth, hearing difficulties, short-term memory impairment and concentration or reaction time impairments. Lead exposure also can lead to attention deficit disorder, which is associated with difficulty in reading, writing, math skills and abstract thinking. Not only is lead linked to learning disabilities, it has also been associated with anti-social behaviour. Studies have shown that lead exposure may predispose young children to delinquency. Correlations between behaviour and lead exposure remained even after controlling for a child’s economic and social background.”13 There have been numerous reports of lead poisoning in adults as the result of retained bullet or shrapnel fragments, thus history of military or other trauma may be important. Experiments on frogs have shown that neurons exposed to lead grow to only 20% of their normal size. “Clinically overt lead encephalopathy may occur in children with high exposure to lead, probably at blood lead levels of 80 mcg/dl or higher. Symptoms of lead encephalopathy begin with lethargy, vomiting, irritability, loss of appetite, and dizziness, progressing to obvious ataxia, a reduced level of consciousness which may progress to coma and death. The pathological findings at autopsy are severe oedema of the brain due to extravasation of fluid from capillaries in the brain. This is accompanied by loss of neuronal cells and an increase in glial cells. Recovery is often accompanied by sequelae including epilepsy, mental retardation, and, in some cases, optic neuropathy and blindness. … Blood lead levels at 2 years of age are more predictive of a longer term adverse neurological outcome than umbilical cord blood lead concentration. Children in the lower socio-economic strata may begin to manifest language deficits by the second year of life, which may be prevented in children with greater academic advantages. Increased blood lead levels in infancy and early childhood may be manifested in older children and adolescents as decreased attention span, reading disabilities, and failure to graduate from high school. … Lead functions pharmacologically by interfering with synaptic mechanisms of transmitter release. It is suggested that lead can substitute for calcium and possibly for zinc in ion-dependent events at the synapse. … Peripheral neuropathy is a classic manifestation of lead toxicity, particularly the footdrop and wristdrop that characterized the house painter and other workers with excessive occupational exposure to lead more than a half-century ago. Sensory nerves are less sensitive to lead than motor nerve structure and function. … The anaemia that occurs in lead poisoning results from two basic defects: shortened erythrocyte lifespan and impairment of haem synthesis. … Lead nephropathy is one of the oldest recognized health effects of lead. … In a mortality study of 4519 battery plant workers and 2300 lead production workers by Cooper and co-workers , there was excess mortality from chronic nephritis. … The relationship between chronic lead exposure and gouty nephropathy, suggested more than a hundred years ago by the English physician Garrod, has received recent support from studies showing that gout patients with renal disease have a greater chelate-provoked lead excretion than do renal patients without gout. Lead reduces uric acid excretion. Elevated blood uric acid has been demonstrated in rats with chronic lead nephropathy. … An increase in blood pressure is probably the most sensitive adverse health effect from lead exposure occurring in the adult population. The data from [American and British population] surveys provides highly convincing evidence demonstrating small but statistically significant associations between blood lead levels and increased blood pressure in adult men, and it shows the strongest association for males aged 40-59 and for systolic somewhat more than for diastolic blood pressure. … Overt or clinically apparent lead toxicity has long been associated with sterility and neonatal deaths in man. … Lead lines [Burton’s lines] or purple-blue discolouration of gingiva is a classical feature of severe lead toxicity in children with lead encephalopathy. However, this feature of lead toxicity as well as the presence of lead lines at the epiphyseal margins of long bones seen on x-rays of children with severe lead exposure are uncommon today.”14 Lead poisoning has been suggested as an explanation for Beethoven’s chronic abdominal pain, irritability, and depression, and for his untimely death at the age of 57 in 1827. Lead overload has also connected with the insanity of the Roman emperor Nero, who drank huge amounts of wine.
DISABILITIES Not all studies support the idea that lead poisoning causes learning disabilities and impairment of intellectual faculties. Pelikan has pointed out the unknown “alerting and consciousness-sharpening” effects of lead in “the extremely fine quantities to which typesetters are exposed.” Going one step further, Steiner even claimed that lead is linked to increased social awareness by pointing to “the active role of typographers in modern labour movements.” Pelikan: “Lead in such minute doses, working over long periods of time, delicately augments certain processes of decomposition, which in turn make possible a strengthening of consciousness.” Lenihan cites two British studies and one American study which arrived at challenging conclusions: “Blood lead levels were higher in children living within 400 metres of a lead smelting works in London than in those living further away. But tests of intelligence and behaviour showed no difference between children with high levels of lead in blood and those with lower levels. Children who had spent the first two years of their lives more than 500 metres from the smelter were less intelligent and more disturbed than those who had lived in the more heavily contaminated region nearer to the works. Another study compared the eleven-plus school examination marks for a large group of children living in a polluted area near a battery factor in Birmingham and other groups living in areas with little or no environmental pollution by lead. The examination marks were higher among the children living in the more highly polluted area. In the Shoshone Lead Health Project, conducted in Shoshone County, Idaho, during 1974 and 1975, a variety of tests were made on children living at various distances from a large lead mining and smelting complex. Although many of those living within a mile of the smelter showed blood lead levels well above the level widely regarded as the threshold for damage to health, the conclusion of the survey was that no mental or physical health defects could be attributed to lead pollution.”15
PHYSIOLOGY Lead has no known biological function in man, but, according to Mervyn, traces of lead seem to be essential for the health of some animals. This mysterious element is solely regarded as toxic, which, however, appears to be chiefly related to the extent and duration of exposure, that is: to overloading. Excessive intakes may entirely mask or distort its functions, but studying lead’s tendencies and affinities may bring an idea of them. In addition, the status of essentiality or non-essentiality ascribed to [trace] elements merely reflects the stage of present human knowledge. Some elements, e.g. boron, were formerly considered non-essential but are now known to be essential. The realisation that boron is an essential micronutrient for plants sparked intensive studies of its role in animal and human nutrition, resulting in its recent status of essentiality. Experiments have shown that certain plants have a mechanism for dealing with heavy metals such as lead. Such plants may serve as agents for bioremediation by decreasing and transforming the heavy metal content of soils. The fact that certain plants, and mushrooms, tolerate certain heavy metals and are sensitive to other heavy metals, suggests that these metals may perform an essential function. Areas around abandoned lead mines in Wales are colonized by a species of bent grass, Agrostis tenuis, which can contain up to 1% lead and 0.03% zinc. Groups of Agrostis plants taken from these areas and others taken from nearby pastures were experimentally grown in normal soil or in lead-mine soil. In normal soil, the lead-mine Agrostis plants were definitely slower growing and smaller than the pasture plants. The reverse was true for the lead-mine soil: here the mine plants grew normally whilst the pasture plants did not grow at all, half of them dying in three months and having formed misshapen, too short roots. 16 The flourishing of Agrostis in soil rich in lead may be attributable to an acquired lead-resistance, but just as well may show that lead is required as a biological growth factor. Children up to 7 years of age are known to be particularly susceptible to lead, which mainly affects their typically rapidly growing and developing organs and tissues such as bone and brain, and, to a lesser extent, the kidneys and liver. In its affinity for bone, lead follows the trail of calcium. If the intake of calcium is insufficient to meet the body’s needs, calcium will be drawn out of the bone accompanied by lead. An average person of 70 kg contains about 120 mg lead, which is largely stored [for 95%] in the skeleton. The liver stores most of the remainder. Lead has a half-life in blood and soft tissue of about 30 days, whereas its half-life in bone is some twenty years for adults [the figure is unknown for children]. Lead in bone may contribute as much as 50% of blood lead, so that it may be a significant source of internal exposure to lead. Lead may be mobilized in persons with osteoporosis. Fried and fatty foods should be avoided in suspected lead poisoning, since fats helps the body retain lead.
FUNCTION If lead produces in its toxic effects an acceleration of the process of hardening, it may help achieve the opposite in its healthy effects. Pelikan argues that lead “behaves as if it were constantly at the extreme edge of solidity”, that is close to melting and dissolving. He comes with an intriguing attempt to explain its biological functions from its behaviour as a metal. “In extraordinarily high dilution, about the ninth decimal potency [one part per billion], lead is found everywhere [in the body]. In certain organs, however, it accumulates in larger quantities, as if it were attracted by these organs. In such accumulations we find it in the bones, but also in pathological calcifications and ossifications such as gall stones, kidney stones, and bronchial calculi. … As lead is concentrated in such organs, conversely it is diluted in other organs to the point of being no longer traceable, above all in the blood. At first this distribution is a mystery, as is the distribution of lead in the earth. But in man, this riddle begins to speak. For in this distribution there appears a most impressive relationship to warmth. … Now in man we find that the organs that are most permeated with warmth, such as the blood, maintain their lead in extreme dilution and permit no coarse materialization. In their differentiation, the warmth relationships of our body display a true organization, which may be called a ‘warmth organization’. In this the human spirit lives as a creative ego; indeed, this ego moulds the entire physical corporeality in a certain way with the help of the warmth organization. An increase in warmth tends to form organs that have a dissolving activity; a reduction in warmth creates organs that toward the lifeless, are subject to solidification, and can therefore serve as organs of support. We have such organs primarily in the bones. Where this organic cooling off takes place, lead precipitates as matter. … Lead has the relationship to warmth that we have described. It expands more on heating and contracts more on cooling than any other solid heavy metal. It clearly shows its inner relationship to calcium. Its salt formations precipitate out of the fluid condition, leading to separation and congealment. It has the ability to combine with sugar. Its qualities match the dynamics of the ego. … lead contains decomposing hardening tendencies, but these are normally under the control of the forming impulses of the ego organization. They become pathological when they unfold a life of their own that supplants these impulses. … If the child’s organism remains overly warm, overly liquid, for example, it may refuse to perform adequately the process of solidification and calcium infiltration that are needed so that later the soul-spiritual principle can express itself in the physical form. The ego expresses itself in the bony system, the skeleton, as form, in the blood as dynamics. The upbuilding forces may become too active and reject the forming forces. Here lead can be an important remedy.”17 In The Book of Urizen, William Blake’s old creator God Urizen creates himself, full of longing for ‘solidity’, hard material as a protective wall against eternity, which Blake imaged as a free ‘fluctuation’ of energies. Urizen is the saturnine ‘drier of all forces, from which loveliness is produced’, and his world is ‘an enclosure of life’.
BEHAVIOUR “Lead exposure is known to cause learning and behavioural problems, problems which are found in a substantial portion of juvenile delinquents. The strongest evidence to date that lead exposure increases the frequency of aggressive behaviours comes from the Edinburgh Lead Study which included over 500 children between the ages of 6 and 9. After taking 30 possible confounding variables into account, the investigators still found a significant relationship between the log of blood lead levels and teachers’ ratings of the children’s’ behaviour on an ‘aggressive/antisocial’ scale and on a ‘hyperactive’ scale, but not on a ‘neurotic’ scale. … Pihl and associates have addressed the relationship of lead exposure and violent behaviour in adults. Hair lead levels from 19 violent criminals were found to be elevated as compared with those of 10 non-violent criminals. This study was repeated 8 years later by the same research team with essentially the same results. However, their results were contradicted by those of the recent Gottschalk study on hair manganese levels; in that study, no significant differences were found between hair lead levels of 104 violent criminals, prison guards and local townspeople. … At low levels, lead has been shown to cause a variety of learning disorders. Bone lead levels in fact have been convincingly linked to delinquent behaviours. Human skeletal lead burdens today show a 500-fold increase over the skeletons of ancient Peruvians who did not smelt.”18
ALCHEMY “Once Cronos-Saturn was the proud ruler in the eternally youthful ‘Golden Age’, but since his son Jupiter overthrew him and he, according to the Iliad was, ‘put under the earth’, he is in a pitiful condition: as Father Death, with his sickle in his hand, he now embodies the destructive aspect of time, and represents the original ‘gate of darkness’ in the Work, through which material must pass ‘in order to be renewed in the light of paradise’. The lowest and coarsest level, the sediment of the world edifice, is assigned to him: stones, earth and lead [antimony]. Böhme called him ‘the cold, sharp and strict, astringent ruler’, who created the material skeleton of the world. The influences of his planet were held responsible for all kinds of poverty and misery. For the Neoplatonists, however, he rose ‘to become the most sublime figure in a philosophically interpreted pantheon’. According to Plotinus [205-270], he symbolizes the pure spirit, and Agrippa von Nettesheim [1486-1535] referred to him as ‘a great, wise and understanding lord, the begetter of silent contemplation’ and a ‘keeper and discoverer of mysteries’. In this way, he rose to become the patron of the alchemists, their central role model.”19 Where Sun-gold for the alchemists represented both the centre and eternity, Saturn-lead represented the periphery and time. “The goal of the ‘Opus Magnum’ is the complete reversal of inside and outside, the rejuvenating return of old Cronos/Saturn to his original, paradisal state [of the Golden Age]. Saturn also embodies sharpness of mind and analytical intelligence, and thus this reversal also means a transformation of thinking, for ‘thinking is an excrescence of what has been, it is based entirely on the past […] No human problem can be solved by thinking, since thinking itself is the problem. The end of knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. [Krishnamurti, Ideal and Reality].”20
SYMBOLISM Lead is the symbol of heaviness and of impregnable individuality, and therefore of humanity at the most primitive level of spiritual development. The alchemists employed the image of a white dove contained in lead to express their central idea that matter was the receptable of the spirit. The specific symbolism of lead is the transference of the idea of weight and density on to the spiritual plane. “This heavy metal is traditionally an attribute of Saturn, the god who divided and set boundaries. Thus, in order to transmute lead into gold, alchemists attempted, symbolically, to cut themselves free from their limitations as individuals and to embrace collective and universal qualities. … In astrology, Saturn [or lead] embodies the principle of concentration, contraction, fixation, condensation, and inertia. It is a power which tends to crystallize and to set the existing order of things in a rigid frame, and thus to be opposed to all change. The good influence of Saturn provides a depth of penetration which is the fruit of profound reflection and constant striving, and corresponds with loyalty, constancy, knowledge, self-denial, chastity and piety. Saturn is the astrologers’ ‘wizard’ planet with the baleful fleeting light which, from earliest times, has conjured up the disappointments and trials of life and which has been depicted allegorically as a skeleton sharpening a scythe. At the base of the biological and psychological functions which Saturn symbolizes is to be found the phenomenon of renunciation, the succession of trials of separation which mark out the life-cycle of every individual, from the severing of new-born baby’s umbilical cord to the loss of natural faculties in old age, via all the different surrenders, self-denials and sacrifices which life itself imposes. Throughout this process, Saturn is thus given the task of setting us free from the internal prison of our animal nature and our worldly ties and striking off the fetters of living instinctively and by our passions. In this sense Saturn provides a strong restraining influence which benefits the spirit and is the motive force of intellectual, moral and spiritual life. A Saturnine complex is a reaction displayed in a refusal to give up whatever one has become attached to in the course of one’s life, a fixation which crystallizes in childhood, from weaning and from the different situations producing affective frustration which lead to the stimulation of greed in the varied shapes of bulimia, lust, jealousy, avarice, ambition and pedantry, linking with the cannibalistic aspect of the myth of Cronos [the Greek version of Saturn] devouring his own offspring.”21 Saturn gave his name to Saturday, the sabbath of the week’s end, before the coming of the new sun of Sun-day [Latin dies solis]. To the Jews this was the seventh day when God ‘rested’, like Saturn quiescent in darkness before the sun rose again. Saturn was identified with the seventh planetary sphere, whose astrological influences partook of ‘saturnine’ qualities such as sombreness, heaviness, darkness, passivity, coldness, etc.
SATURNALIA “Many peoples have been used to observe an annual period of license, when the customary restraints of law and morality are thrown aside, when the whole population give themselves up to extravagant mirth and jollity, and when the darker passions find a vent which would never be allowed them in the more staid and sober course of ordinary life. Such outbursts of the pent-up forces of human nature, too often degenerating into wild orgies of lust and crime, occur most commonly at the end of the year. … The Saturnalia, this famous festival fell in December, the last month of the Roman year, and was popularly supposed to commemorate the merry reign of Saturn, the god of sowing and of husbandry, who lived on earth long ago as a righteous and beneficent king of Italy, drew the rude and scattered dwellers on the mountains together, taught them to till the ground, gave them laws, and ruled in peace. … But no feature of the festival is more remarkable, nothing in it seems to have struck the ancients themselves more than the license granted to slaves at this time. The distinction between the free and the servile classes was temporarily abolished. The slave might rail at his master, intoxicate himself like his betters, sit down at table with them, and not even a word of reproof would be administered to him for conduct which at any other season might have been punished with stripes, imprisonment, or death. … The liberty allowed to slaves at this festive season was supposed to be an imitation of the state of society in Saturn’s time, … the mock king who presided over the revels may have originally represented Saturn himself. … Thus arrayed and attended by a multitude of soldiers he [the mock king] went about in public with full license to indulge his passions and to taste of every pleasure, however base and shameful. But if his reign was merry, it was short and ended tragically; for when the thirty days were up and the festival of Saturn had come, he cut his own throat on the altar of the god whom he personated. … The resemblance between the Saturnalia of ancient and the Carnival of modern Italy has often been remarked; but in the light of all the facts that have come before us, we may well ask whether the resemblance does not amount to identity. … The King of the Bean on Twelfth Night and the mediaeval Bishop of Fools, Abbot of Unreason, or Lord of Misrule are figures of the same sort and may perhaps have had a similar origin.”22
PROVINGS ••  Hartlaub and Trinks – 5 provers; method: unknown.
Allen’s Encyclopedia contains 580 additional references to toxicological reports.
 Lide [ed.], Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.  Pelikan, The Secrets of Metals.  Lenihan, The Crumbs of Creation.  Emsley, The Consumer’s Good Chemical Guide. [5-6] Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Pelikan, ibid.  Lenihan, ibid.  Mervyn, Vitamins and Minerals.  Cox and Brusseau, Secret Ingredients.  Pais and Benton Jones, The Handbook of Trace Elements.  Stapleton, Lead is a Silent Hazard.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dep. of Health and Human Services.  Klaassen, Casarett and Doull’s Toxicology.  Lenihan, ibid.  Raven et al., Biology of Plants.  Pelikan, ibid.  Werbach, Nutritional Influences on Aggressive Behaviour; website. [19-20] Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism.  Chevalier and Gheerbrant, Dictionary of Symbols.  Frazer, The Golden Bough.
SPINAL CORD and NERVES [MUSCLES; ABDOMEN; kidneys; navel]. Blood vessels. Blood. * Right side. Left side.
Worse: Clear weather. Exertion. Motion. Company. Grasping smooth objects. Excitement. Night. Drinking. Walking in open air.
Better: Hard pressure. Rubbing. Bending double.
M Strong sense of order.
• A strong sense of order is very Saturnal and is often seen in Plumbum patients. … The qualities required to do scientific research, to turn masses of facts and figures into a cohesive whole and write an article are Saturnine and so Plumbum patients will be more readily scientists than performing artists. There is often a very good feeling for number, they like arithmetic and mathematics and have an exceptional memory for numbers, remembering up to fifty telephone numbers [personally verified] and can recognise cars by their license plate numbers. Many love to use a computer. The sense of order can turn into a rigidity, things have to be done in the same way and in the same sequence. Many Plumbum women note that their natural orderliness turns into a panicky state near the menses: ‘I rush around putting things in order.’ … The decompensating Plumbum patient can become angry and irascible when things are not done his way. The feeling of not being able to deal with the chaos may lead to anxiety and eventually depression. With their sense of responsibility and strong work ethic Plumbum patients can be very hard workers, much like Aurum. … ‘I work hard, and rush around,’ ‘I must, I must’ goes through my head. ‘I get in a panic, rush here and there, full of things I must do, always in the same order. I must finish everything and have it neat and tidy or I panic. There is a voice in me telling me to hurry up.’ One can see that the imperative is very strong here, the ‘must’, like a strict father or internalised super-ego. The fear of failure is therefore also very strong, the fear of being punished, of being cast out for not having performed to perfection. … In the decomposing Plumbum there can be a strong fear of doing anything new, reminding us of Silicea and Lycopodium.”1
M Inversion of rules.
• “Brooded over any forbidden thing; would steal from house in servant’s cloak and bonnet to obtain stimulants, but from the moment their prohibition was withdrawn ceased to have any desire for them; after being permitted to visit a priest and converse with him ceased to talk and think of the Church.” [Hering]
• “Interestingly, Plumbum patients counteract the apathy in a unique manner; they get involved in things which are unacceptable to society. They find excitement in risky, scandalous behaviour; they seek forbidden thrills. A married man may try to seduce his wife’s sister, which, if discovered, would create incredible turmoil. In such a forbidden situation, he find himself excited enough to regain his potency. Plumbum may even be indicated in certain compulsive gamblers who gain thrills by risking their homes, business, etc., which are crucial to their very existence. One may see an upright, church-going patient who suddenly decides to become a Buddhist, or to follow an Indian guru. Such behaviours create a tremendous turmoil among his family, friends, and colleagues. It is this upheaval which seems to counteract the apathy and paresis he has experienced. If his priest were to say, ‘O.K. go ahead’, the patient would very likely lose interest in his new venture.” [Vithoulkas]
c COMPARE: the SATURNALIA.
M Zero tolerance for constraints.
• “In our increasingly complex society, constraints and obligations are growing from day to day. In addition, lead pollution has reached significant levels. To accept this high level of civilization which is more and more constraining, one must have ‘aplomb.’ [In French ‘avoir du plomb dans la tete’, literally, ‘to have some lead in the head’, meaning to have a good head on one’s shoulders.] Otherwise, one might just go ‘plumb’ crazy, and escape into infantile and irresponsible behaviour. Plumbum will allow children to tolerate the constraints of school – even those who have been labelled ‘problem children’, and who have been sent from school to school for lack of discipline and interest. Let us not wait for the physical symptoms to appear before thinking of this remedy [abdominal colic, motor paralysis, chronic nephritis].” [Grandgeorge]
c In Allen many cases of lead encephalopathy can be found, which have four characteristic manifestations:  violence and abusiveness, either in the form of aggression towards others or as the delusion/fear of being murdered;  loquacity or taciturnity, the former as nonsensical babbling or talking to oneself, the latter related to difficulties in understanding and answering questions;  restlessness or apathy;  abdominal colic and epileptic convulsions. Nearly all patients with outbursts of violence furiously resisted being put into a straitjacket; even the thought of being tied could make them furious.
• “Begged and prayed to be released from the strait-waistcoat, ‘for,’ he said, ‘I am not mad; but the idea of being forcibly restrained is enough to drive me crazy.”
• “Recognized those about him, and maintained a long conversation tolerably well; but, when a drunken patient happened to say to him, in an offensive tone, ‘They will put you in a strait-waistcoat, you old lunatic!’ he became furious, stamped his feet, shook his fists, wept, etc.; poured forth a multitude of words.”
• “At one time he became much agitated, tried to get up, addressed the doctors, abused them, tried to strike and bite the nurses when restrained, and at last, shouting and struggling, was put into a strait-waistcoat.” [Allen]
M Lost in hell.
• “Believes himself lost; has the sounds of hell constantly in his ears; hears voices and sees shadows of demons.” [Hering]
M High living.
• “Plumbum pathology typically develops in ‘high livers’ – people who have been egoistic and selfish throughout their lives. They have enjoyed the best of everything – the best food, the best surroundings, a model marriage, etc. They become accustomed to these things, possessive about them. Eventually, they develop fixed ‘arteriosclerotic’ attitudes and attachments. They eat rich foods, and they become easily upset over small things. These upsets stimulate the production of adrenaline in the bloodstream, which in turn increases the mobilisation of lipids. These then are deposited upon the linings of the arteries. Thus, selfishness, possessiveness, and inflexible ideas lead to arteriosclerosis, which in turn leads to progressive paresis on all three levels of the organism.” [Vithoulkas]
M Slow, difficult ideation.
• “Sometimes the eyes were fixed and the features concentrated; sometimes the former seemed to roll about, under the influence of serious thought, and the whole face to partake of this meditative look.” [Allen]
M QUIET MELANCHOLY.
• “One aspect common to all the Plumbum patients is a difficulty in establishing contact. There is a blank look and lack of communication which does not always indicate a lack of intelligence. One of my patients gave such short answers that I doubted his intelligence until I asked about his school. He was the pride of the family, attaining the highest grades at one of the most advanced secondary schools. It was the incapacity to make contact, to communicate which characterised his case. Partners of patients have often commented on the lack of response to emotional events.”2
• “Grave and melancholy slaves of duty, Saturnians speak little, as if they were afraid of wasting their thoughts. They weigh their words, sometimes expressing themselves sententiously. They say no more than is needed. They are introverts who repress within themselves all sensations and feelings such as grief, guarding in silence the projects they have planned. They never lack the means of extricating themselves from embarrassing situations, and readily seize upon the faults of their adversaries in order to gain advantage. Niggardly in giving promises, they scrupulously observe those which they have made; they are bound by their word. The love of independence is theirs in the highest degree, but reason and will enable them to submit to the most rigorous disciplines. They are slaves of the habits which they try to preserve. Friends of solitude, foes of noise, they are self-sufficient and live alone, shunning the activity of a world they despise. Taciturn or deliberately silent, surly and dejected, quick to see the worst in everything, to detect ill-will in others, to believe themselves persecuted; distrustful and suspicious, meticulous and obsessive, they emanate misery and by their very presence dispel feelings of joy in those around them.”2
M Timid, restless and anxious.
M Mental exhaustion from physical labour.
M Children with weakness of memory [problems at school], emotional instability and psychomotoric restlessness.
G Slow, insidious processes, often of a very changeable or incoherent character.
G ATHEROSCLEROSIS; organic heart disease.
Atherosclerotic mental deterioration, poor memory, esp. for names.
G NEUROLOGICAL disorders.
[Parkinson’s disease, MS, CVA]
Paralysis, in particular of extensors.
• “His power to flex the wrist and grasp with his fingers was very feeble, but he was wholly unable to extend the wrist or fingers. When the arm was stretched out from the trunk, the hand hung, as if lifeless, from its articulation at the wrist. … He exhibits precisely the character of that form of palsy which results from lead-poisoning, more commonly known as the ‘painters’ wristdrop’.” [Hughes]
G Ailments and COLICKY pains.
Takes STRANGE attitudes and positions in bed during sleep.
• “The pain is most frequently at the umbilicus, and next at epi- or hypogastrium, but may affect any part of abdomen, pelvis, or thorax. It consists ordinarily in a violent sense of twisting; sometimes it is described as tearing, shooting, burning, boring, or it may be felt only as constriction, or as compression from a supposed weight on the abdomen. It is mostly so severe as to throw the patients into the utmost agitation, and sometimes to render them insensible to all that is around them, slow to respond when addressed, and even tempted to suicide. The paroxysms are more frequent by night than by day.” [Hughes; effects on workers in lead]
• “During the aggravations, he screams, draws himself together under the bedclothes, suddenly gets out of bed, then gets in again, and doubles himself up, etc.”
• “During the paroxysms, he lay flat on his belly, dug his fingers into his navel, tied himself tightly in his cravat, uttered dismal screams, declared that he had to go to stool; sometimes got up and walked the room hurriedly, his hands pressed to his abdomen; we have seen the poor fellow leaning on his belly against the iron railing of his bed.” [Allen]
G Very CHILLY.
< Evening, “even when near the fire.” [Hering] Yet becomes easily overheated when lying in bed. G < Evening . < Night. G < While fasting. G < Slight touch. > HARD pressure, bending double and warmth [esp. colicky pains].
• “During the paroxysms, which occurred almost every ten minutes, the patient, suffering the greatest anxiety, his face all distorted, rolled about in bed uttering dismal groans; he laid his pillow over his abdomen and begged the bystanders to press upon it with all their force; this afforded temporary relief.” [Allen]
Rubbing > cramps.
G Shooting, flying, lightning pains, extorting cries.
RADIATING in all directions.
• “Arthralgia [saturnina] is the most common result of lead poisoning, after colic; the author has observed 755 cases, in 201 of which it stood alone. It arises under the same circumstances as the colic, which it frequently accompanies. It is generally announced by a feeling of numbness and lassitude in the parts it is about to attack. The pain usually sets in during the night. Its most frequent seat is the lower extremities, then the upper, the loins, the thoracic walls, the back or neck, and the head. It affects by preference the flexor surfaces of the limbs, and the joints [esp. the larger ones] rather than the intermediate lengths. Its character is tearing-asunder, contusive, or a composition of extremely painful shootings, as sudden and rapid as electric shocks. Patients compare these to needle-thrusts, or even to the boring of a gimlet. Some say that they feels as if a live coal were in the painful parts; others complain only of pricking, of disagreeable numbness, a fatigued or bruised feeling, a sort of constriction or irritation; others speak of formication. There are, further, a few who imagine a burning liquid to be coursing through their veins, or that an ice-cold body is touching the parts. There is great agitation during the paroxysmal exacerbations, which commonly last a few minutes only, and are most frequent at night.” [Hughes; effects on workers in lead]
G Feeling of pulsation. [In 2 provers]
• “On lying down feels the beating of arteries in neck and belly, and can sleep but little.”
• “Feels the arteries beating in feet, hands, and head after dinner.” [Hughes]
G RETRACTION [actual or sensation as if].
[eyes, stomach, abdomen, navel, anus, testes]
G INSENSIBILITY [to heat of stove, to pain, to pricking].
G Emaciation – atrophy.
• “The whole body becomes the subject of atrophy, and resembles a veritable skeleton in a transparent enveloppe.” [Hughes]
[1-2] Collins, Plumbum in practice; HL 3/93.  Vannier, Typology in Homoeopathy.
Answering, imaginary questions . Biting himself . Brooding over forbidden things [2/1]. Aversion to company, when alone > . Delusions, there are conspiracies against him , she is criticized , all persons are devils [2; Plat.], he is away from home , that everyone around him is a murderer [2/1]. Silent ennui [2/1]. Fear, of dogs , in narrow place , of being touched . Loquacity at night . Weakness of memory for expressing oneself . Quiet disposition . Vanishes of senses from pain . Speech, at random at night [1/1]. Talking to himself . Timidity about appearing in public .
When hungry [1C]. On looking upwards at a light .
Pain, from odours, car fumes [1C], paint [1C]; occiput, from looking at bright objects [1; Stram.], > pressure .
Diplopia, distant objects . Objects seem distant . Fiery circles [1H]. Hemiopia, vertical . Lost, with abdominal pain , before headache [1H]. Objects seem small .
Convulsions, spasms while speaking [1/1]. Shiny, as if oily .
Nodosities, sensation as if having lumps on gums [1H].
Sensation of a lump while smoking [1; Sep.].
Nausea, after fat food [1C], from sweets [1C].
Pain, > lying on abdomen , > pressure , > stretching out , extending to all parts of body [3/1]; radiating from umbilicus .
Offensive flatus after eating fish [1H].
Menses flow only in the absence of pain .
Voice weak during menses [1/1].
Heat, soles of feet, in bed [1H].
Position, on abdomen .
Faintness in a crowded room . Sensation as if forced through a narrow opening . Pain, burning, in blood vessels .
* Additions: H = Hughes; C = Collins, Plumbum in practice [33 confirmed cases], HL 3/93.
Aversion: : Drinks; everything, morning; fat [C]; fish [C]; fried food; fruit [C].
Desire: : Bread; cold drinks; salt; sweets. : Alcohol; fried food; pastry; rye bread; salt + sweets; sour; tobacco.
Worse: : Fish. : Cold food; fat [C; = nausea]; sweets [C; = nausea].
Better: : Hot food.
* Repertory additions [Collins].