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Argonne researchers confirm lead in Beethoven's illness

s exposure to lead was not a recent event, but may have been present for many years." The half life of lead in the human body is about 22 years, with 95 percent of "old" lead residing in the skeletal structure. Beethoven experienced a change of personality and abdominal illness in his late teens and early 20s that persisted throughout his adult life. His abdominal symptoms and autopsy findings are both consistent with lead poisoning, Walsh said.

There have been documented cases of deafness resulting from lead poisoning, but this has been a relatively rare occurrence. There is no solid evidence that lead poisoning was a cause of Beethoven's deafness, Walsh said.

"Beethoven saw physician after physician in search of a cure for his physical ailments," said Walsh. In fact, in a letter to a friend, he expressed the wish that after his death, researchers would use his remains to help determine the cause of his illness so that others would not have to suffer as he did. "Beethoven suffered from bad digestion, chronic abdominal pain, irritability and depression. Since he died in 1827 at age 57, there has been much speculation but no proof of the cause of his illnesses and death."

Researchers performed the elemental X-ray fluorescence analysis at an Advanced Photon Source X-ray Operations and Research beamline.

"The APS is the best machine in the country to perform the research in this detail," said Ken Kemner, one of the Argonne researchers involved in the project. The group used microimaging to look at the distribution of lead in and on both the bone fragment and the hair to identify the presence of any surface lead, and found none, confirming incorporation of lead in the bone and hair.

Argonne's Advanced Photon Source is a premier national research facility providing X-rays to more than 5000 scientists from around the world. "Our users bring with them ideas for new discoveries in nearly every scientific discipline," said Murray Gibso
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Source:DOE/Argonne National Laboratory


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