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April 9, 1982

Lead Poisoning in an Art Conservator

Author Affiliations

From the Environmental Sciences Laboratory, Department of Community Medicine (Drs Fischbein and Rohl), and the Department of Chemistry (Dr Kon), Mount Sinai Medical Center; St Vincent Hospital and Medical Center and New York Medical College (Dr Wallace); and Rockefeller University Hospital (Drs Fischbein, Anderson, Sassa, and Kappas), New York.

JAMA. 1982;247(14):2007-2009. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320390069049

A case of lead poisoning in a female art conservator is reported. The patient had experienced excessive lead exposure while restoring an antique Peruvian tapestry from the Chancay period (1000 to 1500 AD) using a powdered pigment (cinnabar), which had been recovered from the same tomb in which the tapestry was found. Over two months, prominent neurological, gastrointestinal, and diffuse muscular symptoms developed. Severe anemia accompanied by basophilic stippling of RBCs led to the diagnosis of lead poisoning, which was confirmed by markedly elevated blood lead levels (up to 130 μg/dL) and impairment of heme synthetic enzymes. The severity of the intoxication necessitated chelation therapy. Chemical analysis of the antique powdered pigment showed it to be the source of lead exposure, in that it contained about 1% lead.

(JAMA 1982;247:2007-2009)