Andrew Jackson's exposure to mercury and lead: poisoned president?

Title

Andrew Jackson's exposure to mercury and lead: poisoned president?

Creator

Deppisch L M; Centeno J A; Gemmel D J; Torres N L

Publisher

JAMA

Date

1999
1999-08

Description

Historians have suggested that US president Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) experienced lead and mercury poisoning following his therapeutic use of calomel (mercurous chloride) and sugar of lead (lead acetate). To evaluate these claims, we performed direct physical measurement of 2 samples of Jackson's hair (1 from 1815, 1 from 1839). Following pretreatment and acid digestion, mercury was measured using cold vapor generation techniques, while lead levels were measured by electrothermal atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Mercury levels of 6.0 and 5.6 ppm were obtained from the 1815 and 1839 hair specimens, respectively. Lead levels were significantly elevated in both the 1815 sample (mean lead level, 130.5 ppm) and the 1839 sample (mean lead level, 44 ppm). These results suggest that Jackson had mercury and lead exposure, the latter compatible with symptomatic plumbism in the 1815 sample. However, Jackson's death was probably not due to heavy metal poisoning.

Subject

*Cause of Death; *Famous Persons; 19th Century; Atomic; Chronic/history; Hair/*chemistry; History; Humans; Kidney Failure; Lead Poisoning/etiology/*history; Lead/*analysis; Mercury Compounds/adverse effects/therapeutic use; Mercury Poisoning/etiology/*history; Mercury/*analysis; Organometallic Compounds/adverse effects/therapeutic use; Spectrophotometry; United States

Rights

Article information provided for research and reference use only. All rights are retained by the journal listed under publisher and/or the creator(s).

Pages

569–571

Issue

6

Volume

282

Citation

Deppisch L M; Centeno J A; Gemmel D J; Torres N L, “Andrew Jackson's exposure to mercury and lead: poisoned president?,” NEOMED Bibliography Database, accessed September 27, 2021, https://neomed.omeka.net/items/show/2898.

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