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Archive for Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Roll over Beethoven: Hair analysis points to lead poisoning

October 18, 2000

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— More than a century and a half after Ludwig van Beethoven composed his greatest masterpieces, tests on strands of the troubled genius' hair have found extraordinarily high levels of lead, which are thought to be the cause of his debilitating illnesses and personality disorders.

The four years of study, including the use of beamed X-rays generated in the Argonne National Laboratory's huge circular electron accelerator here, turned up lead concentrations of 60 parts-per-million, a research team reported Tuesday. That is more than 100 times normal readings and more than enough to cause the kind of abdominal distress, irritability and depression that Beethoven suffered for years before his death in Vienna in 1827 at the age of 56.

Further chemical analysis was conducted by the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago, headed by Walter McCrone, who is best known for studies of Napoleon's hair that proved that the French emperor was not poisoned by arsenic, as some historians had contended. McCrone also did scientific studies of the Shroud of Turin.

Beethoven Project Director William Walsh, chief scientist at the Health Research Institute in Naperville, Ill., said he doubted that lead poisoning caused Beethoven's deafness, which began at age 31 and was almost total by age 42. But he said more research will be conducted in that area.

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