There has been widespread use of stable lead isotopes in the earth sciences for more than 40 years focussed on the origin and age of rocks and minerals with lesser application in environmental investigations where the emphasis has been directed typically to the source of lead in environmental media such as air, water and soils. In contrast, the number of environmental health investigations focussed on humans (and primates) is limited in spite of the demonstrated utility of the approach in pioneering studies in the early 1970's. This paper reviews the status of lead isotopes in human investigations especially over the past 2 decades, the period over which most activity has taken place. Following a brief introduction to the method, examples are provided illustrating the use of lead isotopes in a wide spectrum of activities including sources and pathways of lead in diverse environments from urban to mining communities, various applications associated with pregnancy, the contribution of bone lead to blood lead including in the elderly, the half-life of lead in blood, and lead in bones and other media. A brief outline of critical research on non-human primates is also given. The lead isotope method is a powerful technique for tracing lead and could be employed more widely in human investigations.
- Lead isotopes