Lead was one of the earliest metals known to humans. The Chinese used it to forge coins as long as 4,000 years ago, and the ancient Romans, upon discovering its corrosion-resistant properties, used lead for water pipes and bath linings. Of course we now know of the dangers of using lead for some of these items, but when managed properly lead is still an extremely useful metal today. Lead is soft and malleable, highly resistant to corrosion and is a poor conductor of electricity. When you first cut it, lead reveals a silvery-blue luster, although it immediately darkens to a dull gray when it hits the air. Lead is abundant in the form of ores that also contain minerals like zinc, copper or silver. The most commonly known lead-containing ore is galena.

Lead in daily life

Now that we know lead requires special care, we’re able to capitalize on its unique properties without risk to human health. This is great news because lead is abundant and affordable!

Lead is a significant component of car batteries, aprons that shield patients from x-ray radiation, and as a stabilizer in PVC pipes. Its low melting point makes it the most common soldering material. And the resistance to corrosion combined with lead’s high density that gives it a high weight-to-volume ratio makes it ideal for use in the ballast keel of sailboats. Additionally, lead has many miscellaneous uses, such as in organ pipes, photovoltaic solar energy cells and infrared detectors.