Lead

What is Lead?

Lead is a heavy metal with the symbol Pb. It is a soft and malleable material that is insoluble in water. It is lustrous and silvery-grey in colour when freshly cut, but tarnishes when exposed to air. It is naturally occurring in the earth’s crust with amounts present in the soil, air and water. 

What is Lead used for?

Lead has been previously used in the production of; pottery glazes, insecticides and hair dyes to name a few, but this has been largely banned or discouraged due to the toxicity of lead and the effects it has on human health. 

It does continue to be used in the production of car batteries, ammunition (bullets), weights, lead crystal glass, pigments and radiation protection, as well as in lead pipes and cable sheathing due to their resistance to corrosion. 

Most lead is used in the production of vehicle batteries
Most lead is used in the production of vehicle batteries

Lead Hazards

The routes of exposure for lead includes; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of lead is not thought to produce adverse health effects of the respiration tract, however, those with already compromised respiratory function (conditions such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis), may suffer further disability upon inhalation. Additionally, people with prior damage to their kidneys, circulatory or nervous systems should be screened prior to handling to reduce the risk of further damage caused by the chemical. 

Ingestion may be damaging to the health, especially where the individual has pre-existing liver or kidney damage. Ingestion of insignificant quantities is not thought to be cause for concern.  

Skin contact with lead is not thought to produce adverse health effects or skin irritation, however entry into the bloodstream through open cuts or wounds may lead to other harmful effects or injury. Skin absorption of lead metal is not considered significant exposure. 

Direct eye contact with lead may cause transient discomfort characterised by tearing and/or redness. Slight abrasive damage may also result. 

Lead Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Other measures are not usually necessary. 

If swallowed, immediately give the patient a glass of water. First aid is generally unrequired, but if in doubt, contact a Poisons Information Center or doctor. 

If skin exposure occurs, flush the skin and hair with plenty of water and soap (if available). Seek medical attention in the event of irritation.

In the event of eye exposure, flush the eyes out immediately with water. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. If irritation persists, seek medical attention.

Lead Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and adequate ventilation is required where solids are handled as powders or crystals. 

The PPE recommended when handling lead includes; particle dust respirators, safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, gloves, overalls, PVC aprons and boots.

If you require more information on this chemical, you should refer to your SDS