Lead levels in ancient Rome’s water were high, but not toxic

Early Roman plumbing made of lead pipes and taps, such as the segment shown here, increased levels of the metal in the city's drinking water but probably not to concentrations that would have been hazardous to human health, scientists say.

Giovanni Dall'Orto/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Romans probably drank tap water with up to 100 times as much lead as that found in the local spring water of the time, thanks to the metal pipes used for the earliest plumbing in the city. The higher levels of lead in the drinking water, however, were probably not excessive enough to be harmful, researchers report April 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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