From: American Geophysical Union
Published June 1, 2017 07:20 AM

Human Activity has Polluted European Air for 2000 Years, Study Finds

A new study combining European ice core data and historical records of the infamous Black Death pandemic of 1349-1353 shows metal mining and smelting have polluted the environment for thousands of years, challenging the widespread belief that environmental pollution began with the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s and 1800s.

The new study, accepted for publication in GeoHealth, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, provides evidence that the natural level of lead in the air is essentially zero, contrary to common assumptions. The research shows lead pollution from mining and smelting was detectable well before the Industrial Revolution and only when the Black Death pandemic halted those activities did lead in the air return to natural levels.

“These new data show that human activity has polluted European air almost uninterruptedly for the last ca. 2000 years,” the study’s authors write. “Only a devastating collapse in population and economic activity caused by pandemic disease reduced atmospheric pollution to what can now more accurately be termed ‘background’ or natural levels.”

The new findings could affect the current standards for lead pollution. Current public health and environmental policy deem pre-industrial lead pollution levels to be “natural” and thus presumably “safe,” but this assumption may need to be re-examined, according to the study’s authors.

Continue reading at the American Geophysical Union.

Image Credit: Nicole Spaulding, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine.

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