Saf Health Work.  2012 Mar;3(1):11-16.

Lead Poisoning: Historical Aspects of a Paradigmatic "Occupational and Environmental Disease"

  • 1Research Centre on Public Health, University of Milano Bicocca, Monza, Italy.


Lead poisoning is one of the earliest identified and most known occupational disease. Its acute effects have been recognized from antiquity when this condition principally afflicted manual workers and slaves, actually scarcely considered by the medicine of that time. The Industrial Revolution caused an epidemic of metal intoxication, urging scientists and physician of that period to study and identify specific symptoms and organ alterations related to chronic lead poisoning. During the 20th century, the acknowledgment of occupational and environmental toxicity of lead fostered public awareness and legislation to protect health. More recently, the identification of sub-clinical effects have greatly modified the concept of lead poisoning and the approaches of medicine towards this condition. Nowadays, lead poisoning is rarely seen in developed countries, but it still represents a major environmental problem in certain areas. Consequently, it may appear as a paradigm of "occupational and environmental disease," and the history of this condition seems to parallel the historical development of modern "Occupational and Environmental Health" as a more complete medical discipline.


Lead poisoning; Occupational health; History
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