Lead Theft—A Study of the “Uniqueness” of Lead from Church Roofs

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In the United Kingdom, theft of lead is common, particularly from churches and other public buildings with lead roofs. To assess the potential to distinguish lead from different sources, 41 samples of lead from 24 church roofs in Northamptonshire, U.K, have been analyzed for relative abundance of trace elements and isotopes of lead using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, respectively. XRF revealed the overall presence of 12 trace elements with the four most abundant, calcium, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur, showing a large weight percentage standard error of the mean of all samples suggesting variation in the weight percentage of these elements between different church roofs. Multiple samples from the same roofs, but different lead sheets, showed much lower weight percentage standard errors of the mean suggesting similar trace element concentrations. Lead isotope ratios were similar for all samples. Factors likely to affect the occurrence of these trace elements are discussed.

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