• A. M. Reichlmayr-Lais
  • M. Kirchgessner
Part of the Biochemistry of the Elements book series (BOTE, volume 3)


The lead content of the uppermost layer of the earth’s crust (16 km thick) amounts to 0.0016%. Accumulations of the metal occur in lead-specific deposits, most commonly as the sulfide mineral galena, which was known to the Egyptians 5000 years ago. The atomic weight of lead is 207.2. There are several isotopes. Chemically, lead is bivalent and quadrivalent, the Pb(II) salts being the most common and forming the most stable compounds. The properties of lead, especially its ductility and high resistance to erosion and chemical reagents, stimulated a diversified application of this metal, especially in alloys with other metals. Because of its widespread use, lead intoxication is common and has been known as “saturnism” or “plumbism” since ancient times. Hippocrates (370 b.c.) connected lead exposure for the first time with subsequent clinical signs. In the second century b.c. Nicander compiled the pathological effects on lead workers. Epidemic occurrences of lead intoxication are known from the sixteenth century, specifically in Amsterdam because of contaminated drinking water and in Devon because of Pb-containing apple wine (see Morgan et al., 1966).


Lead Concentration Lead Exposure Lead Content Lead Poisoning Lead Toxicity 
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© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. M. Reichlmayr-Lais
    • 1
  • M. Kirchgessner
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Nutrition PhysiologyTechnical University MünchenFreising-WeihenstephanGermany

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