A team of researchers with members from France, Great Britain and the U.S. has found that lead concentrations in drinking water in Rome, during the height of the Roman Empire were 100 times that of local spring waters. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes how they took sediment samples from two sources in the city that revealed lead levels over a thousand year period.
Scientists and historians have for years debated the possibility that lead poisoning was a contributing factor in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire—water carried from afar in aqueducts was directed into lead pipes for distribution in the empire’s capital city of Rome—leading to speculation that leaders had gone mad due to exposure in their drinking water. In this new effort, the researchers have concluded that while lead levels in the ancient drinking water were high, they weren’t high enough to have been a major health hazard, and thus, lead cannot be blamed for the demise of the empire. Read more.