How lead changed history

Lead is a chemical element with its very own special place in the periodic table. There are things most people do not know about lead and one of those things is that is possible to convert lead into gold by knocking of three of the lead’s protons. Also, when you pass electric current through lead, no energy is absorbed or released, apparently this is called the ‘zero Thomson effect. The taste of lead is sweet, it is like a toxic candy without any calories.

Lead was among the first metals to be discovered by humans. About 5000 years ago it was already used in Rome’s water pipes. Because of leads flexibility, malleability and its relatively low melting point, it was popular among the Romans. They poured molten lead into flat clay pieces and then curved it and pinned it. It is ironic that the rich people in Ancient Rome drank from lead vessels, while someone doing that now is considered too poor to buy proper cups. Romans were intelligent people, they had a really advanced civilization with almost everything in it that we have. The downfall of Rome is widely considered to be partly caused by lead poisoning. That is not without reason because even very small amounts, a couple of parts per billion in water is already dangerous particularly to children and pregnant women. A study published in the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation (NOS in The Netherlands) says that children drinking water that is transported through lead pipes have a 2 to 5 points of decrease in their intelligence quotation ( IQ). You would think that after 5000 years people would have learned to not to mess with lead, but that’s incredibly wrong to claim.

In the early 20th century, Thomas Midgley invented Ethyl gasoline, the magic anti-knock gasoline. He advertised is at many places and in all of those advertisements he did not mention a word about lead. He got rewarded for this kind off, he did het several awards including an award from the American Chemical Society. They admired him so much that he became president and chairman of the American Chemical Society. I said kind of earlier  because although he did win prizes and achieve great achievements, his death cause was very unpeaceful.  He  became very ill because of lead and he became severely disabled, so he needed pulleys to till him up from bed. One day that system failed, he got entangled and he got strangled to death, while probably having his life that caused a lot of damage to many people flash by. Must have been awful. 

Enough about Midgley, even nowadays lead is used in pipes, bullets, paint, plumbing and more. Through all of the examples above that contain lead come in contact with humans (contaminated water, bullets piercing in the body, inhaling paint fumes and also water). The water contamination with lead has already been called a ‘health epidemic’ before. A recent example is the Flint, Michigan water crisis. The crisis all started five years ago in 2014. Officially it is still going on right now. It all began when the city switched its water supply from treated Detroit sewage water to Flint River water. Like the Roman Empire their pipes were made of lead. When they switched after some time they discovered that the water contained lots of e-coli, a dangerous bacteria of which 8 of them are enough to make someone sick and the water contained other germs. So they added lots of chlorine to the water. It was supposed to fix that, but the chlorine water corroded little pieces of lead with it. The consequences that it had? 12 people dying from Legionnaire’s disease and another 87 affected by it. The  children with lead-blood levels of 2.5% in the year 2013 had a lead-blood level of 5% in 2015. In just two years the amount doubled. Now the lead contamination is becoming visible in the schools of Flint. It lead to numerous suspensions and resignations. Right now there are still about 2500 lead service lines in place in Flint. Those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to make them again.

Here are some of the sources I used to write this post:

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