A couple of months ago we read wrote an interesting article about the history of asbestos and its many different uses. Because of the dangers that asbestos poses to human health, it has largely been banned in commercial products. Because it was widely used but is still dangerous today, companies such as RESCON Restoration and Construction are hired to come in and remove it from buildings. As useful as it was, asbestos is “quartz non grata,” and its name is synonymous with poison in most people’s minds.
Something similar has happened with lead. While people of the past might have originally thought of it as a benign metal (unless you dropped it on your foot), people of today often think of it as a horrible poison. And while lead can be extremely detrimental to a person’s health, it’s still used in many applications. But when dealing with lead that could harm human health, there are plenty of occasions when it should be removed. Let’s take a look at why lead removal is one of RESCON’s services.
What Is Lead?
Lead is chemical element. It is a (mostly) non-reactive metal with the atomic number 82 and can be found under the letters Pb on the periodic table. Like gold at atomic number 79, lead is soft, malleable, and heavy. Unlike gold, lead is very common in the earth’s crust, and hence people have tried to use it for as many purposes as possible. It’s fairly-low melting point allowed it to be extracted easily from ore and was therefore one of the first metals used by early man.
Unlike iron or molybdenum, lead is not a metal needed by the body to perform any function. Worst yet, it is not easily excreted and builds up in the body over time.
Lead has many negative effects on humans, and these are compounded in children. The most well-known effects of lead is how it affects the brain, causing learning difficulties. But it can also lead to memory loss, headaches, delirium, and, if the dosage is high enough, coma and death. It can also cause kidney failure, slurred speech, hallucinations, partial blindness, tremors, delayed reaction time, loss of coordination, convulsions, and seizures. Even in small doses it can cause fatigue, weight loss, anemia, diarrhea, and reproductive problems.
With symptoms like that, it’s no wonder that lead removal experts are in high demand.
Where Was It Used? Where Is It Used?
- Paint - The fear that most people have of lead comes from its use in paint. Lead was a wonder to the paint industry of the early 20th century because of the many advantages it provided. First, it helped the paint dry faster, and it also made the paint last longer. Part of this durability was because the paint became more water resistant when lead was added. Also, compounds of lead, including lead carbonate and lead tetroxide, would change the color of the paint, meaning that paint makers could have all of the benefits of lead while using it to create the color at the same time. Lead was banned from paint in the United States in 1978.
- Gasoline - If you’re older than forty, you probably remember gas station attendants asking the question “regular or unleaded?” before filling the tank. In that situation, regular was the default; this was gasoline that had tetraethyllead in it, a lead compound that was added to gasoline in order to prevent engine knock. Even after the adverse health effects of lead were known, the government allowed tetraethyllead to be added to gasoline from 1921 all the way up to 2000.
- Lead-Acid Batteries - Lead-acid batteries rely on the reaction between sulfuric acid, lead dioxide, and lead in order to provide voltage. Lead-acid batteries were an early form of rechargeable battery and very reliable. They were also very heavy. Today, most rechargeable batteries are nickel cadmium or lithium ion, but certain applications still require the use of lead acid.
- Bullets - Sometimes in gangster movies you’ll hear someone threaten someone with “lead poisoning.” That’s a euphemism for shooting someone with lead bullets. Lead has been used for bullets since the time of musket balls, mostly because the more dense a material is, the more kinetic energy can be delivered when it strikes something. (If you’re looking for an interesting read about how they made lead bullets spherical, read up on shot towers.)
- Scuba diving belts - In order to counteract the buoyancy of a diver’s air-filled lungs and other buoyant equipment, lead belts help keep divers from floating to the surface.
- Solder - Soldering is the act of fusing two metal pieces by using a heat-melted alloy. It is most often used in the electronics field, such as on circuit boards. Lead has been used in solder for decades, but many countries are beginning to phase out its use.
- Pipes - It’s hard to talk about lead without bringing up the Flint, MI water crisis. Many people were drinking lead with dangerously high lead levels. Sometimes the lead came from the pipes themselves as they deteriorated. Other lead sources included the lead solder that was used to connect the iron pipes. While there are most certainly some lead pipes in the water systems of Colorado, our distinction of having relatively-new metropolises means that lead pipes were phased out before many water systems were in place. If you suspects lead pipes in your neighborhood, you can get a free water lead test in most municipalities.
- Radiation Shielding - No matter how much you might want to avoid lead, one place you’ll put up with it is at the doctor’s and dentist office. Because lead is so good at absorbing radiation, it’s is often used to prevent parts of the body from being exposed to x-rays during medical images procedures.
Is It Banned?
No. Laws have been passed to remove lead from certain applications, such as altering gasoline and paint. But if you wanted to, you could go out and buy lead ingots to use in art projects or for science experiments. Proper care should still be taken, both during use and when disposing of it.
So Why The Need For Lead Removal?
Even though most uses of lead that come in contact with humans has been banned, that doesn’t mean that the lead suddenly disappeared. Houses built before 1978 might still have lead in the paint, and that lead should be removed so that children don’t get it into their system. If you suspect there may be lead in your home, contact RESCON today.