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Beethoven Died From Lead Poisoning

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By Lawan Davis
2006-1-3

I'm Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English HEALTH REPORT.

Ludwig van Beethoven is remembered as one of the most famous composers in history. He wrote some of the world's greatest classical music. Beethoven lived only fifty-seven years. He died in eighteen twenty-seven.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Recently, tests confirmed that Beethoven died of severe lead poisoning. The United States Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory supervised the testing. Bill Walsh directed the Beethoven Research Project. He is the chief scientist at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Warrenville, Illinois.

Mister Walsh and his team examined pieces of bone belonging to Beethoven. They found a large amount of lead in the pieces, or bone fragments. They said the lead levels were equal to those found in pieces of his hair in earlier studies.

Genetic tests confirmed the bone fragments and hair came from Beethoven. The researchers also examined bone fragments from someone else who lived during the same period. Both were from the top of the head, or skull. The fragments from Beethoven had more lead than those from the other person.

The study found no measurable levels of cadmium or mercury in the fragments from Beethoven's skull. Both elements had been thought to be possible causes of his health problems.

Beethoven was sick for much of his life. He experienced stomach problems and a change of personality when he was around twenty years old. He also was easily angered, and suffered from depression and hearing loss. His health problems became worse as Beethoven grew older.

Mister Walsh says severe stomach pain is a sign of lead poisoning. He said the lead levels found in Beethoven's skull suggest the metal may have been present in his body for many years.

Mister Walsh said there is no strong evidence that lead poisoning was a cause of Beethoven's hearing loss, or deafness. He said there have been recognized cases of deafness caused by lead poisoning. But he said this is very rare.

Ludwig van Beethoven visited many doctors throughout his life to find a cure for his health problems. Beethoven wrote a letter to a friend before he died. He urged researchers to examine his body after he died so that other people would not have to suffer as he did.

This VOA Special English HEALTH REPORT was written by Lawan Davis. This is Faith Lapidus.

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