Lead Poisoning from a Painted Water Tank

Manufacturer and builder 11, 1885

Dr. Bartley, chemist to the Brooklyn Board of Health, reports an interesting case of lead poisoning which was caused by using water front a tank on shipboard, which had been painted nine months before with red lead.

The case was that of a Norwegian vessel which reached the port of New York with all the officers and crew more or less seriously ill from lead poisoning. They were removed to the Long Island College Hospital, where one of them subsequently was seized with convulsions and died. The curious element in this case is the fact that the water tank, which had been painted while the vessel was at Copenhagen, should have been used without any evil consequences during several voyages, having been several times filled at certain ports at which the vessel stopped. It was only after having the tank refilled at Cadiz, and after having proceeded on her voyage for some time, that symptoms of sickness began to manifest themselves, when one after another of the crew sickened, until all were affected, with the result previously mentioned. Meantime the vessel had touched at several South American ports, where the tank had been again refilled several times. No less than nine months, as above mentioned, had elapsed between the time of painting the tank and the first outbreak of the malady, the tank in the interval having been in constant use.

To account for this anomalous circumstance, Dr. Bartley supposes that the first few times the tank was filled, it was wills hard water — containing carbonates — the result being the formation of an insoluble film of carbonate on the surface, which protected the lead beneath from solution and the water from contamination. Later a softer water was probably used — containing nitrates and nitrites — which are known to have a marked influence on the corrosion of lead pipes, and which would act its a similar manner upon the lead paint.

The circumstance is instructive, as exhibiting very strikingly the danger of using lead paints for such a purpose as that herein described.

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