19Th Dec 2003



By; Saadullah Ayaz
(M. Phil Environmental Biology)

Department of Biological Sciences

Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad



The symbol of lead is “Pb”, derived from its Latin name “Plumbum”. It has an atomic number of 82 and the atomic weight is 207.2.



Lead is the Eighty Second element in the periodic table. It belongs to Group IV A and 6TH Period.



Lead is known since ancient times and used by mankind. Leads piping bearing the insignia of the Roman Empire were found in ancient ruins of the civilization. It is believed that the drinking of water from the lead pipes caused the fall of Roman Empire. Lead was also used in ancient times in civilizations like Babylon, Greece and Egypt.



Lead is a solid metal having Gray- blue luster. Its boiling point 1740° C and Melting point 327.5° C. Lead has a half life of 3.3 hrs. It occurs in two oxidation states of +2 and +4. Its is soft, extremely malleable and ductile and is a poor conductor of electricity. It is highly resistant to corrosion. The 4.2 lead has a cubic crystal structure with centered faces.


Lead undergoes variety of chemical reactions, resulting in formation of a variety of compounds, most of these are colored and are used as color pigments in paints and dyes. a. Lead reacts with Water to form Lead Oxide (Litharge), which is a yellow pigment. Pb2+ + H2O b. PbO + 2H

Lead reacts with Oxygen to form Triplumbus tetra- oxide. Which is called “Red Lead”. 3Pb + 2O2 Pb3O4


Triplumbus tetra- oxide reacts with Nitric Acid to form Lead Dioxide, which is reddish- brown pigment. Pb3O4 + 4HNO3 2Pb(NO3)2 + PbO + H2O


Phumbus Oxylate when heated forms Plumbus Oxide, which is called “Black Lead”.


Pb2O + 3CO2 + CO



Lead is relatively abundant in the earth's crust (13 g/ ton, ranking 36th), where it is found in form of Galena (PbS). There are two isotopes of lead. One is found very commonly 208Pb. The other isotope of lead is the 209Pb. Which is radioactive and emits radioactivity in form of beta particles. United States is a major mine producer and by far the world's leading metal producer. Missouri is by far the main producing State. The other leading mine producers are Australia and the former U.S.S.R, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. Recycled lead meets more than 60% of our annual demand.



Lead has a number of uses but many of these are currently being phased out because of growing awareness of its toxicity as it is causing uncontrolled damage to the environment and hazardous effects on life. It ranks second in the list of hazardous substances issued by the U.S. ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) in 1999. Today everyone is exposed to risk of lead contamination. Exposure to lead and lead chemicals occurs from breathing and inhaling fumes of combusted lead gasoline, drinking water, ingest contaminated foods or drinking water, and swallowing or touching dust or dirt that contains lead. The most important source of lead is its use in gasoline (which began in the 1970s). Other principal sources are lead paints and in soils and dusts containing lead compounds. Lead may also enter the environment as a by-product of mining and of the industrial processing of other metals, such as silver, gold, bismuth, etc. Lead may also enter body by embedded lead projectiles like pellets and bullets and. Lead pellets are reportedly engulfed by fishes in form of lead pellets used by hunters and enters into the body of prey birds that feed upon these fishes and thus cycles into the food chain. 6.1. LEAD IN SOILS AND ENVIRONMENT

Lead in the home garden and urban soil environment concerned about elevated lead levels in the environment, particularly in metropolitan areas. Soil lead levels are highest around building foundations and within a few feet of busy streets. Although lead in paint and gasoline is not presently used to any great extent, once lead has been deposited, it moves very little through the soil and can persist for a long time. Therefore, lead contamination of soils from these sources continues to be a concern. Lead is added to petrol in the form of Tetra- Ethyl Lead (PbEt4) to enhance the quality of the fuel to be used by the vehicles and reduce engine knocking. Thus the smoke emitted from such vehicles contain significant amount of lead and causes pollution in the environment. From this smoke it can enter the ecosystem or the bodies of organisms.



In general, plants do not absorb or accumulate lead. However, in soils testing high in lead, it is possible for some lead to be taken up. In such cases plants may readily absorb lead through their root system, this is observed in plants growing in contaminated soils that contain nitrogenous lead compounds like Lead Nitrate (PbNO3). Lead does not readily accumulate in the fruiting parts of vegetable and fruit crops (e.g., corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, apples). Higher concentrations are more likely to be found in leafy vegetables (e.g., lettuce) and on the surface of root crops (e.g., carrots). In this manner the lead enters the ecosystem and food chain passing from producers to the consumers. The lead has hazardous effects on plant growth and metabolism. 6.3. LEAD POISONING IN HUMANS

The noxious effects of lead have long been well known, especially as regards acute forms of poisoning known as “Lead Poisoning”. Reports of lead poisoning date back to ancient Greece and high levels of lead have been found in ancient Egyptian mummies. A large amount of the ingested lead passes through the body unabsorbed and is eliminated in the feces. Adults absorb ~5-15% of ingested lead and retain less than 5%. Children absorb ~50% and retain ~30%. Once entering the body, lead is not metabolized and is captured by the liver and blood, and gets settles into the tissues and notably deposited in blood, in mineral tissues (bones and teeth) and in soft tissues (kidneys, bone marrow, liver and brain). Some lead is partly excreted in the bile. The presence of lead in the blood stream (inside the red blood cells and mostly linked to hemoglobin) provokes anemia. This disease cannot be considered a symptom, but rather a delayed sign of lead poisoning. Through the blood, lead reaches all other tissues. Because of its capacity to "mimic" calcium, lead is stored in the bones and becomes a stable bone component, particularly in the case of insufficient calcium intake. This lead deposit may be mobilized and return into the blood stream under particular states of physiological stress (pregnancy, breast-feeding) but also as a consequence of greater calcium intake in the diet. This stable presence of lead in bones makes recovery from lead poisoning extremely slow, even when the toxic agent has been completely eliminated. Lead can damage practically all tissues, particularly the kidneys and the immune system. The most deceptive and dangerous form of lead poisoning is that affecting the nervous system. In adults, lead damage mainly causes peripheral neuropathy, which is characterized predominantly by de- myelination of the nerve fibers. Intense exposure to high lead levels causes encephalopathy, with the following symptoms: vertigo, insomnia, migraine, irritability and even convulsions, seizures and coma. Lower levels of the metal give rise to lead-induced neuropathy, which mainly affects the developing brain and provokes behavioral problems and cognitive impairment. Epidemiological studies have shown a strong correlation between lead levels in blood and bones and poor performance in attitude tests (IQ or psychometric tests). A similar correlation has

also been found in behavioral studies carried out on animals that had been exposed to lead immediately after birth. The learning process is based on the creation and remodeling of synapses and the toxic effect of lead on this process suggests that this metal specifically damages the synaptic function. Children's high vulnerability to lead is aggravated by the fact that they are particularly exposed to lead intake, for instance if they are fed on formula milk prepared with water rich in lead or if they ingest flakes of lead- based paint. 6.3.1 Action Mechanism Lead's toxicity is largely due to its capacity to mimic calcium and substitute it in many of the fundamental cellular processes that depend on calcium. Lead can cross the cell membrane in various ways. Lead transport through the erythrocyte membrane is mediated by the anion exchanger in one direction and by the CaATPase pump in the other. In other tissues, lead permeates the cell membrane through voltage-dependent or other types of calcium channels. Once it has penetrated the cytoplasm, lead continues its destructive action by occupying the calcium binding sites on numerous calcium-dependent proteins. Lead binds to “Calmodulin”, a protein which in the synaptic terminal acts as a sensor of free calcium concentration and as a mediator of neurotransmitter release. Furthermore, it alters the functioning of the enzyme Protein Kinase C, a virtually ubiquitous protein which is of crucial importance in numerous physiological functions. 6.3.2 Neurotoxicity Lead uptake through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain. It acts as a potent central neurotoxin. In the brain, lead accumulates and sinks in cells and destroys neuron cells. The effects of lead on the brain, including mental retardation and cognitive deficit, are mediated by its interference with three major neurotransmission systems. Lead directly interferes with the action of glutamate, the brain's essential excitatory neurotransmitter. Glutamate binds to membrane receptors of different types. Small concentration of lead can block the specific class of receptors called “NMDA type” and have effects on memory and learning functions. Tetraethyl lead, which is used as an anti-knock agent in petrol, is converted in the body to Tri- Ethyl Lead, which is a more severe neurotoxin than inorganic lead. 6.3.3 Effects On Children Because of their behavior and physiology, children are more sensitive than adults to exposure to lead in a given environment Young children (especially those living in old houses with lead-based paint) are especially susceptible to its toxic

effects. Poor children and children from racial/ ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to have elevated blood lead levels. The dietary exposure that results in blood levels of concern has been estimated to be 60 micrograms of lead per day for children. A child’s chronic exposure to low lead levels can cause developmental and neurologic problems. Children’s renal, endocrine, and hematic systems may also be adversely affected by lead poisoning. In particular, the incomplete development of the blood-brain barrier in fetuses and in very young children (up to 36 months of age) increases the risk of lead’s entry into the developing nervous system, which can result in prolonged or permanent neurobehavioral disorders. The other effects in children include; diminished intelligence and altered behavior. 6.3.4 Pregnant Women and Their Developing Fetus Blood lead readily crosses the placenta, putting the developing fetus at risk. This is especially important in the neurologic development. The mothers who had previous elevated exposure to lead may store it in their bones, from which it could be released during times of calcium stress, such as pregnancy and lactation. Pregnant women with elevated blood levels may have an increased chance of miscarriage, spontaneous abortion or stillbirth, and pre- term labor, and newborns with low birth weight or neurologic problems. Severe toxicity can cause sterility, abortion and neonatal mortality and morbidity. 6.3.5 Adults Workers in occupational settings with sources of lead exposure (e.g., plumbers, miners, mechanics, and lead smelter/ refinery workers) experience increased risk. The Hazardous effects can be neurologic and adults may suffer from a disorder that is called “Attention- Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”. There are reports that lead poisoning may have contributed to “van Gogh's” illness and madness in adults.



Poisoning of alimentary areas occurs most frequently and is characterized by abdominal discomfort and pain. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, anemia, malaise and irritability. Low levels of lead impair neurotransmission, the immune system functions, and may increase systolic blood pressure. The major complaint is muscle and joint pains/weakness and tremors. Headache, dizziness and insomnia are frequently prominent. Gastritis and liver changes are also usually present. Less common symptoms are excitation, confusion, hallucinations, distorted perception.



Treatment for lead poisoning relies on drugs that have a chelating effect on the metal; these are molecules that can bind to lead and form a stable complex, which is then expelled. The most common drugs used are Calcium-EDTA, dimercaprol (DMSA or BAL) and Penicillamine (a penicillin derivative which has a chelating, rather than antibacterial, effect). Treatment with the chelating agent Calcium Ethylenediaminetetracetate and related compounds have been found to be highly effective in removing absorbed lead from the tissues of the body. The lead can be extracted from soils of the dumping sites by adopting the modern techniques of phyto- remediation, in which the toxic substances are extracted by making use of plant species like Sesbania drummondii. This shrub specie can accumulate lead upto 1% of its weight, in form of granules in its epidermis upto the central axis (V. S. Shivendra 2002). 6.6 PRECAUTIONS

Precautionary measures to avoid exposure to lead must be taken. The use of lead and its compounds must be minimized accordingly. Such toxic compounds must not be used or dumped in open sites as to avoid their entry in to the plant system. A single exposure can get in your bones and linger indefinitely. Efforts must be taken to minimize the exposure to lead contamination, but for people and workers living in the contaminated environments, protective suiting can be safely used to avoid the hazards of lead toxicity. Using face-shields or vented glasses can protect the eyes. Gloves, coveralls or other full body clothing, shall be worn during working in such conditions.
Protective Equipment

The proper disposal of lead compounds is utmost important to avoid the chances of lead toxicity. For such cases all the local and federal laws should be strictly observed. Such compounds should be handled with extreme care and must be buried in a landfill site approved for the disposal of chemical and other hazardous wastes.



Besides its toxic effects, lead is widely used in modern days in and find extensive industrial and domestic uses. The major reasons beings its physical properties life corrosion resistance and high mealibility and ductility.


Lead is added to petrol in the form of Tetra- Ethyl Lead (PbEt4) with an anti-knocking function. Still today, over 90% of all gasoline sold in Africa and the Middle East is still leaded, while over 30% of Asian and Latin American gasoline is also leaded. Nowadays its is used as flashing to seal the gaps between the chimney and the roofs. Lead alloyed with tin is used as solder. Lead sheets and pipes are used principally for the construction of equipment for storing and handling sulphuric acid. Today's major use of lead is in lead-acid storage batteries. The electrical systems of vehicles, ships, and aircrafts. Lead is employed in accumulators and ammunitions like pellets, bullets and war- heads in rockets and missiles. It is widely used in hospitals as anti- radiation shields to block X- ray and gamma radiation. It is employed to shield against nuclear radiation both in permanent installations and when nuclear material is being transported. Lead is widely used in paint industry in form of colored pigments like, C.I. Pigment Yellow 46, Lead Monoxide, Lead Oxide Yellow, Lead Protoxide, Litharge Yellow L-28 and Yellow Lead Ocher. Non- transportation uses for lead include increasing use for sound- proofing in office buildings, schools, and hotels.

b. c. d. e. f. g.



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