Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

What is lead

How does lead get into the environment and lead as a hazard.
Image of the periodic table
What is lead

Lead is a dull, silvery-grey metal, which is soft and easily worked into sheets. Lead is an element on the periodic table (group IVB, atomic number 82), and a metal that is widely distributed in the earth’s crust (soil and rocks), air and water. It has been mined for thousands of years and is largely emitted into the environment as inorganic salts. Lead is used either as a metal or as a chemical compound (e.g. inorganic salts).

How does lead get into the environment?

Lead is naturally present in low levels in the Earth’s crust, mainly as lead sulphide (galena). However, lead has become more widespread because of human (anthropogenic) activities. With the decline in combustion of leaded fuel and the phasing out of lead in pipes and paints, industrial emissions from mining, smelting, recycling or waste incineration are now the major source of environmental lead. Lead is persistent in the environment and is not easily removed.

Lead as a hazard

A hazard is defined as a situation or chemical, radiological, biological or physical agent that may lead to harm (impact) or cause adverse health effects. Due to the impact lead can have on the body, it is classed as a hazard. The potential consequence of a hazard combined with the likelihood and probability of the hazard occurring is termed “risk”.

Discussion point: Where have you come across lead in your environment?

This article is from the free online

Public Health Incidents Involving Lead

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education