Lead and its compounds

The substance
Lead is a bluish-white very dense metal which is very soft, highly malleable, ductile, and a relatively poor conductor of electricity. It is odourless. It is highly resistant to corrosion but can dissolve very slowly in soft water.

The primary use of lead is in lead-acid batteries. Other important uses include lead roofing and flashing, lead solders in electronic equipment and in radiation shielding. Lead was formerly used widely in plumbing, as an anti-knock additive in petrol and in paints. However these uses have been discontinued. The majority of lead (about 60%) used today is not only produced from minerals containing lead but from recycling of old lead scrap, other intermediate products from non-ferrous plants and in particular from recovery of lead from lead-acid batteries.

Major emissions
Current major sources include iron and steel and non-ferrous metal production, the energy and chemical industry. The major source of lead released to the air has until recently come from petrol containing lead additives, but this has virtually ceased. Historical use of lead in paint and water pipes contributes to releases to land and water and may result in ingestion by humans in potentially dangerous amounts. Sewage treatment plants are also a significant emission source to surface waters reflecting inputs from both domestic pipes and various industrial sources. Lead is also a natural occurring element, rarely found in its elemental state but in a number of ores. Natural sources contributing to airborne lead include silicate dusts, volcanic aerosols and radon decay.

Impacts on human health and environment
Excessive exposure to lead and some of its compounds may cause health effects on the brain in children and the unborn child. Lead is toxic to plants and aquatic life. However, hazards depend on the form and bioavailability of lead. Lead and its compounds are subject to a review for identification as possible priority hazardous substance under the Water Framework Directive.

Emission to air reporting threshold: 200 kg/year

Emission to water reporting threshold: 20 kg/year

Data source: European Pollutant Emission Register