Cochise College                         Student Papers in Geology

Geology Home Page                          physical geology  historical geology  planetary  gems           

Roger Weller, geology instructor

Lead vs. Health
by Kaleb Solberg
Physical Geology
Spring 2017
                                                                        Lead a Leadless Life         

What is Lead?

Symbol: Pb

Melting point: 621.5°F (327.5°C)

Atomic number 82

Atomic mass: 207.2 u ± 0.1 u   

Electron configuration: [Xe] 4f145d106s26p2

    Lead is a soft (easy to work), dull, a silvery-grey metal found naturally (not human-made) found in small amounts in the earth's crust.  Lead does not conduct electricity and is an effective shield against radiation.  Lead can be either inorganic or organic. Inorganic lead is lead found in old paint.  While it can have some beneficial uses, recently we have discovered that lead can be very harmful to developing children or fetuses.

    There is two types of lead, organic and inorganic lead.  We used organic lead in leaded gasoline before we burned it.  Organic lead can be more toxic than inorganic lead due to the ability of the body to absorb organic lead.  Inorganic lead is lead found in old paint, soil, and other various product and is harder for the body to absorb but still just as dangerous.


Where is Lead Found?

    Lead is a naturally occurring metal inside of the earth’s crust. However, due to human use and involvement, lead has now contaminated the air, soil, water, and is even located in some homes. Much of human exposure to lead derives from the use of fossil fuels such as leaded gasoline, some types of industrial facilities, and past use of lead-based paint in homes.

    Humans have historically used lead as pipelining, pewter, and paint due to its ability to be easily worked and its high corrosion-resistance. Also, we haves used lead in glazes for pottery, insecticides, and some hair dyes. Lead is still being used today for car batteries, pigments, ammunition, cable sheathing, lifting weights, weight belts, crystal glass, and some forms of radiation protection


How does Lead get Into the Body?

    The two main routes lead enters the body is either through digestion or inhalation. For example, lead can get into an individual’s body through digestion when that individual unknowingly eats anything that dusted in lead residue. Also, one can digest lead through drinking water contaminated from plumbing laced with lead. One may also inhale lead, however rather uncommon now except for occupationally, with the use of leaded fossil fuels.


Effects of Lead Exposure

    Overexposure to lead can cause problems with the central nervous system, reproductive system, hematological system, and the kidneys. Most symptoms of lead exposure will go unnoticed due to nonspecific symptoms, such as stomach pain, headaches, anxiety, irritability, and poor appetite. Most symptoms can be easily mistaken and overlooked as simple cold or flu symptoms. Some other recorded effects are:

In adults:



Who is at Risk?

    Children and women who are pregnant are more at risk of lead poisoning.  Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies will absorb it more readily than adults, and lead will damage the brains and nervous systems of developing humans.  Babies are also highly susceptible to lead poisoning due to their experimental and curious nature.  Babies are more likely to grab objects and put them into their mouths that may have lead dust on them.  This was a greater concern when lead was still used as paint chips that could be easily accessed by infants and had a sweetish taste to it.

    Adults who work in places known to have high exposure to lead, such as mining, ironwork or welding, construction, renovation and remodeling activities, smelters, firing ranges, manufacturing, and disposal of car batteries, automobile radiator repair, metal shop work, and manufacturing of pottery or stained glass.


Steps to Prevent Lead Exposure

    First and foremost be knowledgeable about any and all purchases you may be making. With your house, ensure that they did not use any lead based paints or pipeline systems. If they did, make sure to have a professional examine and replace all existing lead-based products in your household. Also, ensure that pottery and dishware are devoid of lead. Monitor any recalls on toys and other products that your children may come in contact. Finally, any individual who is exposed to lead at a workplace should change out of clothes before entering the household.


    Some medications exist to help remove some lead from the body. However, no medical care is recommended for children with lower blood lead levels. Medications such as succimer have been known to reduce blood lead levels in children; it can not reverse adverse impacts on IQ performances.