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  WB00941_8.GIF (1211 bytes)  LEAD INFORMATION  WB00941_8.GIF (1211 bytes)

For general information on the sources and uses of lead please view our Lead Information

For more detailed information on the production, properties and uses of lead please refer to our Technical Notes

For a comprehensive overview of all aspects of the lead industry, including health and environmental issues, please see the On-Line Fact Book



Over the centuries lead's unique properties have been harnessed in countless ways in the service of man and today it is still one of the most widely used and versatile materials in existence.

Its softness and low melting point make lead very easy to handle and fashion. Its high resistance to corrosion makes it ideal for weatherproofing buildings and for equipment used in the manufacture of acids. Lead's high density makes it particularly appropriate as a shield against radiation in the nuclear industry and in hospitals. For the same reason lead is also good at stopping sound waves and so is used to reduce noise from machinery in factories and from engine rooms on ships.

However, the most important use of lead today is in the lead-acid battery which provides power in numerous situations. The most familiar use of the lead-acid battery is to start our cars and other vehicles, but they are also used to power electric vehicles and to provide emergency power when the electricity fails.

The qualities of lead are unrivalled and it is irreplaceable in many of its uses. Consequently this versatile metal will be needed as much in the future as it has been in the past.

Global Lead Mine Production, Metal Production and Metal Consumption 1964-2003



Lead metal is described as being either primary or secondary. Primary lead is produced directly from mined lead ore. Secondary lead is produced from scrap lead products which have been recycled.

Around 3 million tonnes of lead are mined in the world each year.  Lead is found all over the world but the largest mining countries are Australia, China and the United States, which between them account for more than 50% of primary production.

The most common lead ore is galena or lead sulphide. Other elements frequently present include zinc and silver. In fact lead ores constitute the main sources of silver, contributing substantially towards the world's total output.

Lead is obtained from galena by a process called smelting. This involves roasting the ore to remove the sulphur and to obtain lead oxide which is then reacted with coke in a furnace. The resulting lead bullion contains many impurities such as silver and gold (hence the name bullion) as well as antimony, arsenic, copper, tin and zinc. These impurities are then removed by various refining steps to obtain pure lead.



Lead Use by End Consumption 2001



A further 3 million tonnes of lead are produced from secondary sources each year, by recycling scrap lead products such as sheet, pipe and batteries. In fact in the western world today more lead is produced by recycling than by mining.

At least three-quarters of all lead used goes into products which are suitable for recycling. This is why lead has the highest recycling rate of all the common non-ferrous metals.

The use of secondary metal makes some important contributions to the environment:

Firstly, the recovery of lead from scrap requires far less energy than smelting from ore.

Secondly, recycling keeps unwanted products out of the waste stream and puts them to good use.

Thirdly, recycling conserves our natural resources for the benefit of future generations.


KEY WORLD STATISTICS 2003 (Values shown in tonnes)

Top Mining Countries

Australia 654,000
China 618,000
USA 464,000
Peru 308,000
Mexico 152,000

Largest Lead Producers

China 1,533,000
USA 1,338,000
Germany 352,000
UK 338,000
Australia 304,000

Major Users of Lead

USA 1,488,000
China 1050,000
Germany 392,000
Korea Rep 342,000
UK 330,000

Main Recyclers of Lead

USA 1,098,000
Germany 222,000
Japan 190,000
UK 176,000
Italy 153,000

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Lead is added to glass
in TVs and computer
monitors to protect
users from radiation