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Grey, soft heavy metal or element (Pb = plumbum) that occurs in nature mostly as galena. It is present in all plants and also in wine in minute quantities, but has no biological function and is dangerous as a neurotoxin. Lead can cause developmental neurotoxicity (harmful changes in the structure or function of the nervous system) in young children and cardiovascular problems (diseases of the heart, blood vessels and non-specific weakening of the cardiovascular system) and nephrotoxicity (kidney damage) in adults.

In ancient Rome, lead was used to sweeten and preserve wine and was fatally recommended by Pliny the Elder (23-79). In the Roman Empire, preparing food and boiling wine in lead vessels was common; for example, the grape syrup Defrutum was made this way. That the Romans slowly poisoned themselves and that lead was ultimately the reason for the fall of the Roman Empire is, however, only an unproven hypothesis. The picture shows a lead-glazed ceramic bottle from Syria in the shape of a grape from the 1st century AD.

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Andreas Essl
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