Lead is the 82nd element on the periodic table and is represented by the symbol Pb. It is a soft metal with a bright appearance that quickly turns a dull gray color when exposed to air. It is usually found with ores of zinc, silver and copper; and is mined and extracted at the same time as these metals. Lead is toxic to humans at certain levels and can damage the nervous system and cause brain damage. Lead accumulates in the body and it is common for damage to occur over many years of exposure. Despite this fact, lead has many uses in a wide variety of industries.
Uses of lead
- One of the most common uses of lead is in the automobile industry. The standard battery in most vehicles is a lead acid battery.
- Another common used of lead is in bullets and shot. There are calls to remove lead from bullets and shot, especially for hunting, but it has been difficult to find a suitable material.
- Lead is used as solder for electronics, but for safety reasons attempts are being made to replace lead solder with bismuth. It is also used in high voltage power lines.
- It is commonly used in construction for roofing materials. It can also be used to create statues and sculptures.
- Lead is used as a radiation shield in many different applications. For example, aprons containing lead are used to shield certain parts of patients during x-rays. Molten lead is even used to cool certain types of nuclear reactors.
- Lead is used to add weight to the keel of sailboats and to divers belts. Lead is also the most common material used in fishing sinkers.
Removing lead from products
The danger of lead exposure has caused it to be removed from many products. It was once widely used in products such as paint, plumbing pipes, fuel, and pesticides. Today, these products are being actively phased out and the lead has been replaced by less toxic substances.