Reuters: Beethoven Pb toxic?

Gary Greenberg Gary.Greenberg at Duke.Edu
Thu Oct 19 10:46:11 EST 2000

Poison May Have Doomed Beethoven

(Mod: Please visit website for complete article. - G]

Updated 6:06 AM ET October 18, 2000

By MARTHA IRVINE, Associated Press Writer 

ARGONNE, Ill. (AP) - An analysis of a lock of Ludwig van Beethoven's
hair suggests lead poisoning could explain certain ailments suffered by
the erratic genius, his strange behavior, his death, maybe even his

The four-year analysis of the hair - apparently snipped after the
composer's death at age 56 in 1827 - has turned up a concentration of
lead 100 times the levels commonly found in people today, according to
researchers at the Health Research Institute in suburban Chicago, where
the hair was tested. 

That means it is all but certain that the composer suffered from lead
poisoning, also known as plumbism, the researchers said. 

"It was a surprise, but it stood out like a sore thumb in the analysis,"
said William Walsh, director of the institute's Beethoven research

Scientists initially were searching for mercury, a common treatment for
syphilis in Beethoven's day. The absence of mercury supports the recent
consensus of scholars who believe Beethoven did not have syphilis. 

In rare cases, lead poisoning causes deafness, but scientists remain
unsure if that was what caused Beethoven's hearing loss. 


Lead poisoning may also explain what some described as dramatic mood
swings on Beethoven's part. 


The Health Research Institute scientists said that Beethoven's lead
exposure came as an adult but that the source of the lead is unclear,
though one possibility is the mineral water he swam in and drank during
his stays at spas. 

The conclusions were based on chemical analysis by the McCrone Research
Institute in Chicago and images taken at Argonne National Laboratory
using an electron accelerator that creates the most detailed X-rays
available today. 

= - = - = - = - = - = - = - = - = - = - = - = 

Center for Beethoven Studies:

Gary N. Greenberg, MD MPH    Sysop / Moderator Occ-Env-Med-L MailList
gary.greenberg at duke.edu     Duke Occupat, Environ, Int & Fam Medicine
OEM-L Maillist Website:                      http://occhealthnews.com


More information about the Toxicol mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net