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Birds of Prey pp 251-272 | Cite as

Lead Poisoning in Birds of Prey

  • Oliver Krone
Chapter

Abstract

Naturally lead (plumbum, Pb) is embedded in the earth’s crust at a concentration of 0.016 g Pb/kg soil, making it a relatively rare metal. From there it is released into the environment by geochemical weathering, igneous processes and radioactive decay (Pattee and Pain 2003). Lead is probably the first metal used by mankind. It was known as opacifier and colourant for glazes and glasses since the fifth millennium B.C. But lead pigment has also been used in cosmetics as long ago as 4000 B.C. due to its softness and low melting point (327.5 °C); it is easily mined and moulded. Formed to coins and figures, lead played an important role in trading more than 4500 years ago in ancient Egypt. As a component of many metallic ores, lead was also considered as a by-product of mining precious metals such as silver. Cooking utensils have been made of lead, and lead piping was the mainstay of the water distribution system in the Roman Empire (Nriagu 1983). Since the Romans did not know sugar, they produced sapa, a syrup made of sweet fruits boiled in lead vessels. Sapa containing lead was used to sweeten drinks and meals. Lead poisoning from all these sources must have been a common disease in ancient Rome. Symptoms included colic, stillbirths, deformities and cases of brain damage. Although controversial (Scarborough 1984), high lead concentrations diagnosed in archaeological Roman bones arguably contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire (Gilfillan 1965). Described in antiquity, lead poisoning was no more mentioned in the literature until the Middle Ages, where it was then mentioned sporadically. Due to the increased use of lead in pottery, piping, shipbuilding, window making, arms industry, pigments and later book printing, lead poisoning reached epidemic dimensions during the period of industrialisation (Hernberg 2000). For millennia the main route of lead exposure was primarily via occupation, but the introduction of leaded paint for residential use in the nineteenth century significantly increased lead accumulation in children (Bellinger 2004). Symptoms in children from lead paint recognised in Australia contributed largely to the understanding of childhood lead poisoning (Henretig 2006). European governments started to ban lead-based paints in the early 1900s, culminating in a ban by the League of Nations in 1922 (Gilbert and Weiss 2006).

Notes

Acknowledgement

I am grateful to I. Rottenberger from the German Institute for Experimentation and Testing of Hunting and Sporting Firearms (DEVA) for providing the cuts through the different bullet types and to R. Cromie from Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), UK, for proofreading the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Wildlife DiseasesLeibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife ResearchBerlinGermany

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