Lead-A 19th-C. Public Health Issue

The June 1879 issue of The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated contains the following brief notice:

Lead – Poisoning. — The dangerous character of lead compounds is shown by the fact, that, in the years from 1838 to 1847, no fewer than 3,142 patients suffering from lead colic were admitted into the hospitals of Paris, although there were during that period only two white-lead and red-lead works in the city. Of these patients 112 died. When lead pipes become incrusted with sulphide of lead, they may be cleaned in this way: Allow a hot, concentrated solution of sulphide of sodium to flow through the pipes for ten or fifteen minutes. The inside of the pipes will then appear as if coated with a gray glaze, and water may then be passed through them free of any lead.

A brief notice in The Phrenological Journal on the hazards of lead.

Already in the 19th century we had a sense that lead was a health hazard, particularly in water pipes. Given our on-going problems with lead in our drinking water, Santayana’s aphorism — “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — seems quaint and naïve. Perhaps it is time to update it:

Those who choose to ignore the past will inflict its crimes on the present.