Pollutant Information: Lead 

About Lead

Category: Heavy metals and base cations

Lead is a very toxic element and can cause a variety of symptoms at low concentrations. Lead dust or fumes can irritate the eyes on contact, as well as causing irritation to the nose and throat on inhalation. Acute exposure can lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach upsets, nausea and muscle cramps. High levels of acute exposure may also cause brain and kidney damage. Chronic exposure can lead to effects on the blood, kidneys, central nervous system and vitamin D metabolism. Emissions have declined by 97% since 1990. The largest source of lead until 1999 was from anti-knock lead additives in petrol. The use of leaded petrol contributed 74% of UK lead emissions in 1990, but leaded petrol was phased out from general sale at the end of 1999, and, consequently emissions from petrol decreased so that the contribution from 2000 onwards was just 1% of UK emissions.  Lead emissions from tyres and brakes were estimated for the first time in 2019, using emission factors provided in the  2016 EMEP/ EEA Guidebook. In 2017, the major sources of lead were tyres and brakes, which now accounts for 32% of the national total, and  steelmaking, with 32% of emissions. There has, however, been a significant reduction in emissions from steelmaking, at least in part due to declining production, and emissions from steelmaking in 2017 were 70% lower than in 1990. Emissions have also declined as a result of the decreasing use of coal.

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Time series graph


Notable events

Start year End year Sector Information Impact
1984 1999 Road Transport Reduction of lead and eventual ban on Lead in petrol and development of engines that can run on lead free fuel. Decrease in emissions
1999 2011 Production Processes Tightening emission controls for the chemical industry under IPPC enforced by the Environment Agency and Defra. Decrease in emissions

Lead contributes to the following...

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