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Origins of Plumbism and Saturnism

Perhaps you have never heard of these occupational diseases, but they have been around for hundreds of years. Today we know these as lead poisoning. Where did these terms come from?.

The more common term was plumbism. It was in general use in the United States during the early part of the 20th century. The word derives from the Latin word plumbum, which comes from a similar Greek term. Plumbum refers to lead, in common use in various BC cultures and widely used during the Roman Empire. The chemical element lead has the symbol Pb, derived from the Latin plumbum..

The term saturnism (also called saturnine poisoning) comes from a different origin. Its origin is from alchemy and the Roman god Saturn. Alchemists referred to lead as saturnism. Lead had an important role in the philosophy of alchemy and the desire to create gold from other materials. It was thought that lead (a common metal) could be transformed into gold. To the right is the alchemy symbol for lead.

Read the complete story in the April 2021 Issue of the Archives.

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