Researchers learn from bones about the effects of lead

A study tested bones from throughout human history to check the levels of lead concentration in different eras.

 Illustrative image of human bones (photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID W CERNY)
Illustrative image of human bones
(photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID W CERNY)
New research shows that the levels of lead found in bones correspond to the amount of lead that is used in society at any given time. The research was published by an Israeli researcher from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 
The study, which was published in ES&T, tested bones from 130 skeletons dating from 12,000 years ago to the 17th century. The results found that the skeletons that came from eras where lead was prevalent have high concentrations of lead in their bones.
The use of metals, especially lead, began 8,000 ago. Lead contains silver, which was used for trade and the demand for it became greater with the creation of the first coins in 500 BCE.
The collapse of the Roman Empire led to a drop in the sourcing of lead for a while, and accordingly, skeletons from the years after the Roman Empire contain lower levels of lead.
This is important because lead is poisonous and is used along with other poisonous metals in the electronics industry as well as solar and wind energy structures, meaning that current generations could also be more exposed to lead poisoning.
"Our study is the first that directly tests the lead concentration in the bones of people over the course of thousands of years in a defined and central location," said Professor Yigal Erel of Hebrew University, who led the study. 
"In light of our findings, we are warning that many people are in extensive medical danger. Our estimate is that the most seriously affected will be the mining communities, workers in recycling factories and solar installation operators around the world. This will be especially true in countries where there is no regulation of environmental pollution and risk of poisoning people."
Professor Liran Carmel, Adi Tiecher and Ofir Tirosh of Hebrew U, Professor Ron Pinhasi from the University of Vienna and Professor Alfredo Copa from the University of Rome also took part in the study.