Blog post originally posted on www.PaintSquare.com
I can think of few corrosion protective materials more durable, functional and versatile than lead. Setting aside the health issues for a moment, the history of lead is truly remarkable—like the Swiss Army Knife of materials.
Discovered about 3,000 BC, lead was widely used by the Romans not only to make pipes and gutters, but also for use in medicine and wine.
In fact, some historians believe that the fall of the Roman Empire can be attributed to severe lead poisoning of the nobility.
Lead was so widely used in the Middle Ages that the word plumber came from the Latin plumbarius, for “one who works with lead.”
As we all know, lead was also used extensively in homes throughout the United States. Lead-based paint adhered exceedingly well to wood, tended not to crack, and provided a hard, smooth surface that was easy to keep clean.
Unfortunately, it also has a sweet taste, which is why the Romans used it in wine—and why children ended up ingesting it and becoming ill.
Lead also has remarkable corrosion-resistant characteristics pertaining to carbon steel. I’ve seen old, decrepit tractors on the side of dirt farm roads with lead-paint jobs that are 40 to 60 years old but look brand new.
If you can find an old-time painter who has applied lead paint, he will undoubtedly wax poetic about how smoothly the paint could be applied. Some of them will tell you that nothing really has ever taken its place.
Out, Out, Damned Lead…
We have worked on a couple of industrial projects recently where lead paint was involved. In both cases, our clients’ initial knee-jerk response was to remove the lead.
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