Atmospheric lead pollution had already started thanks to the ancient Romans

When we think of pollution and its first important phases of impact on our environment, we always refer to the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century, periods during which human beings began to make massive use of fossil fuels, particularly those derived from oil. However, the impact in terms of environmental pollution by humans began well before, even during the age of ancient Rome according to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The research analyzed, in particular, the concentrations of atmospheric lead in Europe during antiquity, especially during the period of ancient Rome. Today, lead remains one of the most dangerous environmental pollutants and is toxic to humans even at low levels. Analyzing the ice cores taken from the Mont Blanc glaciers, researchers have extracted various elements including metals dating back to the period when the ancient Romans produced lead in an almost industrial way for the production of water pipes, coins and various articles.

The ancient Romans were in fact used to extract lead through mining activities by means of massive activities that also used hundreds of men for each mining site. In particular, scientists have detected two peaks of lead air pollution in Europe during the Roman era, one in the 2nd century BC and the other in the 2nd century AD.

Overall, these mining activities polluted Europe’s atmosphere over a period of almost 500 years.

According to Michel Legrand, a scientist at the Université Grenoble Alpes in Grenoble, France and one of the authors of the study, lead emissions during this period increased the natural level of this element in the atmosphere by a factor of 10.

For comparison, the most recent human activities related in particular to the use of leaded petrol have increased this level in Europe by a factor of between 50 and 100. The pollution of the ancient Romans, however, occurred over a longer period of time, at least five centuries compared to the 30-40 years during which leaded petrol was used massively.

In general, this research, as reported by Alex More, a climate historian at Harvard University unrelated to the study, shows that all the theories and studies that indicate, with regard to man-made air pollution, the pre-modern or pre-industrial period as the starting line show a fundamental error.

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