Letter | Published:

Stable Lead in Fossil Ice and Bones


DURING the past hundred years about 1 × 1014 g of lead has been dispersed by man in the biosphere1, and the question arises as to whether this has increased the exposure of modern societies to chronic lead intoxication. The chief sources of lead in the atmosphere are the combustion of petrol and coal and the contributions from both these sources are now of the same order of magnitude although in the past the greater contribution was from coal2. In effect, the existing concentrations of lead in different components of the biosphere are now much higher than the natural concentrations which have been calculated3. To investigate the temporal variations in the lead content of the environment and in the human body I have collected samples of glacial ice representing the precipitations of the past hundred years, and also samples of human bones covering the period from the third to the twentieth centuries. In these samples lead was determined by dithizone colorimetry according to the method described earlier4.

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