Human lead exposure in a late 19th century mental asylum population

Nathan W. Bower, Sarah A. McCants, Joseph M. Custodio, Michael E. Ketterer, Stephen R. Getty, J. Michael Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Lead isotope ratios and lead (Pb) levels were analyzed in 33 individuals from a forgotten cemetery at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, Colorado dating to 1879-1899. Isotopic ratios from healing bone fractures, cortical bone, and tooth dentine provide information about sources of Pb exposures over a range of time that illuminates individual's life histories and migration patterns. Historical records and Pb production data from the 19th century were used to create a database for interpreting Pb exposures for these African, Hispanic and European Americans. The analysis of these individuals suggests that Pb exposure noticeably impacted the mental health of 5-10% of the asylum patients in this frontier population, a high number by standards today, and that differences exist in the three ancestral groups' exposure histories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-473
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007


  • Archaeology
  • Bone
  • Diagenesis
  • Isotope
  • TIMS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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