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Facts and Firsts of Lead

Collated by Katarzyna Bochynska, Medical Science, University of Wollongong
Created 21st October 2005
Updated 11th October 2013

Lead is one of the metals of antiquity, and like Saturn – the oldest god and consequently the father of the gods – it has also been referred to as the oldest of metals (Nriagu, 1983).

  • 6500 BC - lead discovered in Mesopotamia (today Turkey), first mine

  • The oldest piece of lead can be found in British museum dates from 3800 B.C

  • 500 BC -300 AD. - Roman lead smelting produces dangerous emissions

  • 200 BC - health effects of lead first stated by the Greek physician Dioscerides: "Lead makes the mind give way"

  • 100 BC - epidemic outbreak of saturnine gout and sterility among Roman aristocracy

  • 100 BC - Greek physicians give clinical description of lead poisoning.

Historical Awareness - "If we were to judge of the interest excited by any medical subject by the number of writings to which it has given birth, we could not but regard the poisoning by lead as the most important to be known of all those that have been treated of, up to the present time." Orfila, 1817

  • 15th century - lead known as poudre de la succession (succession powder)

  • 16th century – the introduction of lead containing cosmetics such as Venetian ceruse and spirits of Saturn

  • Lead mentioned by Shakespeare (1564-1616) at least 25 times in his published plays

  • 1848 - Tanquerel des Planches, in his treatise, remarks on children placing lead painted toys in their mouths and developing lead colic

  • 1886 - publication of first periodic table (Mendeleyev periodic table), lead is included as one of the 63 known elements

  • 1887 - US medical authorities diagnose childhood lead poisoning

  • 1897 - lead poisoning among Queensland children is documented

  • 1904 - Child lead poisoning linked to lead-based paints (article in Australian Medical Gazette by J. Gibson)

  • 1909 - France, Belgium and Austria ban white-lead interior paint

  • 1914 - Pediatric lead-paint poisoning death from eating crib paint is described

  • 1914 – [Many people wrongly believe this to be the year that lead was banned from house paint in Australia. In fact, lead was only limited to 0.1% in house paint in Australia 83 years later, in 1997!]

  • 1920 - Introduction of tetraethyl lead as a key for improvement of engine performance

  • 1921 - National Lead Company (USA) admits lead is a poison

  • 1922 - League of Nations bans white-lead interior paint; US declines to adopt

  • 1922 - Tunisia and Greece ban white-lead interior paint

  • 1922 - The Health Acts Amendment Act of 1922 in the state of Queensland Australia, says:

  114A(1) No paint containing more than five per centum of soluble lead shall be used or put within four feet from the floor or ground on the outside of any residence, hall school, or other building to which children under the age of fourteen years have access, or on any veranda railing, gate or fence.

  • 1923 – First tetraethyl lead poisoning deaths occur

  • 1926 – Great Britain,  and Sweden, ban white – lead interior paint

  • 1927 – Poland bans white lead interior paint

  • 1931 – Spain and Yugoslavia ban white lead interior paint

  • 1943- Report concludes eating lead paint chips causes physical and neurological disorders, behavior, learning and intelligence problems in children

  • 1952 – many cases of children lead poisoning associated with white- lead paint are reported and publicized in popular press in USA

  • 1955- CPSC lowered the limit of lead in paint to 1.0 %

  • 1971- Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act passed

  • 1971- CDC lowers the limit for a lead poisoned child to 40 micrograms /decilitre (µg/dL)

  • 1975- CDC lowers the limit for a lead poisoned child to 30 µg/dL

  • 1977 – the WHO recommends the tolerable dietary intake of lead as 430 µg/day micrograms/day

  • 1978 – USA bans white lead paint (limit of lead in paint below 0.06%)

  • 1979- association of lead exposure and neuropsychological deficits in children described in the New England Journal of Medicine

  • 1980 - National Academy of Sciences calls leaded gasoline greatest source of atmospheric lead pollution

  • 1985- CDC lowers the limit for a lead poisoned child to 25 µg/dL

The origin of chemical symbol for lead "Pb" is Latin word "plumbum" of unknown origin, related to Gk. molybdos "lead" (dial. bolimos), probably from an extinct Mediterranean language, perhaps Iberian. Lead is readily inhaled or ingested in the body and can be found in the blood, in soft tissue and in bones, where it can remain for decades.

  • 1990 - Leaded gasoline in cars is banned in Canada

  • 1991 - CDC establishes lead concentration safety limit as less than or equal to 10 µg/dL

  • 1991 – establishment of Lead Group in Australia

  • 1991 – the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association voluntarily agrees to limit lead content in consumer paint to 0.06%

  • 1992 - the maximum lead content of domestic paint reduced to 0.25 % in Australia

  • 1993 – the national (Australia) change of lead blood level standard from 25 µg/dL to less than or equal to 10 µg/dl

  • 1994 - the UN commission called on governments worldwide to switch from leaded to unleaded petrol

  • 1994 – study cited by American Academy of Pediatrics shows direct relationship between lead exposure and IQ deficits in children.

  • 1995 - ATSDR declares lead the number one on CERCLA Priority List of Hazardous Substances

  • 1996 – Lead is declared the highest priority by the OECD for country-specific management plans

  • 1996 – the association of elevated lead levels and destructive behavior in adolescent boys reported (Journal of the American Medical Association, 7 February 1996).

  • 1996 – NHMRC sets the acceptable lead level in drinking water as 0.01mg/l

  • 1997 - in Australia the maximum lead content of domestic paint reduced to 0.1%

  • 1999 – Australia as the first country bans candles fitted with metal wick core containing lead

The pre-industrial lead blood levels in humans is estimated to be around 0.016 µg/dl, thus 50-200 times lower than the lowest reported levels today and around 625 times lower than "safe" value of less than or equal to 10 µg/dl.

  • 2000 - the American Academy of Pediatrics and Pediatric Academic Societies report that cognitive defects in math, reading, short – term memory may occur at lead levels as low as 2.5 µg/dl

  • 2000 – ecological and social studies suggest the association of gasoline lead exposure with increased crime rate

  • 2000 - by the end of 2000, 42 countries phased out lead from petrol

  • 2002 - European Union bans leaded petrol

  • 2002- Australia phased out leaded petrol with exception of Avgas still permitted for water sports, motor car and motor bike racing

  • 2004 - WHO/ Europe include lead on the list of Hazardous Chemicals: main risk for children's health as the most important neurotoxin for children

Reports suggest that phasing out the lead from petrol results in decrease in the average lead blood levels. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that reducing the environmental lead exposure would provide better future for next generations.

* Abbreviations in order of appearance in fact sheet:

CPSC – Consumer Product Safety Commission, USA
CDC- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA
WHO- World Health Organization
UN- United Nations
ATSDR- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, USA
OECD- Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development
NHMRC- National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia


  1. A small dose of lead - LEAD DOSSIER - (Accessed 9th October 2013)


  3. Childhood lead exposure and housing sources: Does a problem exist in Ontario? Position paper and resolution adopted by the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA), 2004 (Accessed 9th October 2013)

  4. Effect of lead on human health - (Accessed 9th October 2013)

  5. History of lead advertising - History of Lead Industry Advertisements - Much of the material from the History of Lead Advertising section of this Web site is drawn from the book Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, (Berkeley: University of California Press/Milbank Fund, 2002), and from the article ''Cater to the Children: The Role of the Lead Industry in a Public Health Tragedy, 1900–1955" also by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner. American Journal of Public Health January 2000, Vol. 90, No. 1, 36-46, (Accessed 9th October 2013) (Accessed 11th October 2013)

  6. Lead Poisoning: A Historical Perspective - (Accessed 11th October 2013)

  7. Lead: The Relevance Of History, from the book Deceit and Denial: the Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution by David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, (Berkeley: University of California Press/Milbank Fund, 2002) (Accessed 11th October 2013)

  8. Deficits in Psychologic and Classroom Performance of Children with Elevated Dentine Lead Levels Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., Charles Gunnoe, ED.D., Alan Leviton, M.D., Robert Reed, Ph.D., Henry Peresie, Ph.D., Cornelius Maher, Ph.D., and Peter Barrett, B.S., NEJM 300: 689-694, 1979 - (Accessed 11th October 2013)

  9. Lead and lead poisoning in antiquity by Nriagu J.O. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 1983 (Accessed 11th October 2013)

  10. The secret history of lead by Jamie Lincoln Kitman, The Nation, 20th March 2000 - (Accessed 11th October 2013)

  11. The Lead Effect? - Julie Wakefield - Environmental Health Perspectives • VOLUME 110 | NUMBER 10 | October 2002- (Accessed 11th October 2013)

Fact Sheet Index

NSW Lead Reference Centre and NSW Government Publications On this site

  1. About the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS)

  2. Main Sources of Lead

  3. How Would You Know If You or Your Child Was lead poisoned?

  4. Lead aware housekeeping

  5. Ceiling dust & lead poisoning

  6. Is your yard lead safe?

  7. Health Impacts of lead poisoning

  8. Rotary Questionnaire

  9. Lead poisoned Pets and Your Family

  10. Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk Factor Questionnaire

  11. Is Your Child Safe From Lead? - What Can You Do About Lead?

  12. Lead in Drinking Water in Australia

  13. Have We Really Resolved The Lead Issue?

  14. The Importance of the Availability of "Spot Tests" for Lead in Paint

  15. Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy

  16. Breastfeeding and Lead

  17. Lead in breast milk

  18. Beware The Lead In Lead Lighting

  19. Renting and Lead

  20. What to do if you have too much lead in your tank water

  21. Lead Contamination in Stormwater

  22. Contamination At Shooting Ranges

  23. Banned: Leaded Wick Candles

  24. Lead, Ageing and Death

  25. Metal miniatures: How to minimise the risks of lead poisoning and contamination

  26. 7 Point Plan for the MANAGEMENT OF LEAD by Australian parents and carers

  27. Countries where Leaded Petrol is Possibly Still Sold for Road Use, As at 17th June 2011

  28. Lead Poisoning And The Brain - Cognitive Deficits And Mental Illness

  29. Facts and Firsts of Lead

  30. Lead mining royalties by state and territory

  31. Lead Mining Stewardship - Grey Lead and the Role of The LEAD Group

  32. Preventative Strategies of The LEAD Group

  33. What do Doctors need to do about Lead?

  34. A Naturopath's Experience Of Lead & People With Diagnosed Mental Illness

  35. Case File: Helping Manage Australian Lead in Petrol - How GLASS Works

  36. Glass Web & Service-Users, Experts & Volunteers, by Country; Countries with Leaded Petrol for Road Use & Worst Pollution

  37. Lead in ceiling dust

  38. Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely

  39. Esperance parliamentary inquiry follow-up factsheet: Where to from Here??

  40. Broken Hill lead miners factsheet 1893 with Note 20081015

  41. Helping a Doctor Help 35,000 Lead-Poisoned People Around the Lead Smelter at La Oroya in Peru
    Ayuda a un doctor que ayuda 35,000 personas envenenadas por plomo alrededor de la fundidora de plomo en la Oroya-Peru

  42. Fact sheet for Australian toy importers and traders

  43. Iron Nutrition & Lead Toxicity
    Informe de Acciones – Hierro y Plomo en la Nutrición

  44. Sanitarium-Are You getting Enough Iron

  45. Do-It-Yourself-Lead-Safe-Test-Kits-flyer

  46. Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  47. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to both adults and children

  48. Lead Exposure & Alzheimer’s Disease: Is There A Link?

  49. In CHINA - Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  50. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you take advantage of the Australian government's Energy Efficient Homes Package: Insulation Program

  51. Alperstein et al Lead Alert - A Guide For Health Professionals 1994

  52. Ceiling Dust WorkCover Guide Lee Schreiber Final Nov 1999

  53. What can I do about climate change AND lead?

  54. The Need for Expert Clinical Assessments in Diagnosis Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

  55. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you have insulation installed

  56. Thirty Thought-Starters on Ceiling Void Dust in Homes

  57. Pectin: Panacea for both lead poisoning and lead contamination

  58. Nutrients that reduce lead poisoning June 2010

  59. Lead poisoning and menopause

  60. Fact sheet For Schoolkids From Professor Knowlead About Lead

  61. Prevention of Exposure to Lead at Work in Indonesia

  62. Mencegah kontak dengan timbal di tempat kerja di Indonesia

  63. How to Protect Your Family from Lead in Indonesia

  64. Bagaimana melindungi keluargamu dari timbal di Indonesia

  65. Cigarette Smoking & Lead Toxicity
     صحيفة معلومات: التدخين والتسمم بالرصاص

  66. Medical Evaluation Questionnaire For Occupational Lead Exposure

  67. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to children

  68. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to adults

  69. Biosolids used as fertilizer in China and other countries

  70. What are the lead poisoning risks of a lead pellet, bullet or shot lodged in the body?

  71. Alcohol’s link to higher lead and iron levels

  72. USA Case Definition of Adult (including Occupational) & Child Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL)

  73. Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children - A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention

  74. Occupational Health & Safety Fact Sheet Dangers of lead for roofers

  75. Let’s Make Leaded Petrol History - Let’s Make Leaded Gasoline History

  76. Lead, Your Health & the Environment. Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean, Macedonian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese 

  77. Lead Safe Housekeeping

  78. Old Lead Paint

  79. Working safely with lead

  80. A Renovator's Guide To The Dangers Of Lead (Brochure 30 pages)

  81. A Guide For Health Care Professionals (Brochure 34 pages)

  82. A Guide To Keeping Your Family Safe From Lead (Brochure 20 pages)

  83. Lead Hazard Management In Children's Services (Brochure 15 pages)

  84. A Guide To Dealing With Soil That Might Be Lead-Contaminated

  85. Exposure Assessment: Lead Neurotoxicity - Is the Center for Disease Control's goal to reduce lead below 10 µg/dl blood in all children younger than 72 months by 2010, good enough?

About Us | bell system lead poisoning | Contact Us | Council LEAD Project | egroups | Library - Fact Sheets | Home Page | Media Releases
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