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Elemental truths about lead and its impact on people, both good and bad. (photo credit: https://artscimedia.case.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/39/2016/03/25105326/lead-smelter.png)

Something to watch: The Man Who Accidentally Killed The Most People In History

One scientist caused two environmental disasters and the deaths of millions.

Something to read: Lead poisoning

Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust. Its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination, human exposure and significant public health problems in many parts of the world.

Important sources of environmental contamination include mining, smelting, manufacturing and recycling activities, and, in some countries, the continued use of leaded paint and leaded aviation fuel. More than three quarters of global lead consumption is for the manufacture of lead-acid batteries for motor vehicles. Lead is, however, also used in many other products, for example pigments, paints, solder, stained glass, lead crystal glassware, ammunition, ceramic glazes, jewelry, toys and some cosmetics and traditional medicines. Drinking water delivered through lead pipes or pipes joined with lead solder may contain lead. Much of the lead in global commerce is now obtained from recycling.

Something to discuss: List of Recalled Toys for Lead Poisoning Hazards

Just to give you an idea of how many children’s toys have been recalled due to lead poisoning hazards and/or violations of lead safety standards, we have compiled a list based on all of the recalls announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) so far this year.

Something for teens: How a lead-acid battery works

Bill explains the essential principles of a lead-acid battery. He shows the inside of motorcycle lead-acid battery, removes the lead and lead-oxide plates and shows how they generate a 2 volt potential difference when placed in sulfuric acid. He explains how the build up of lead sulfate between the plates will make the battery unusable if it discharged completely, which leads him to a description of how to make a deep cycle battery used for collecting solar energy.

Something to try: PTable

An interaction periodic table. Not all features are evident so try clicking on everything! Find the symbol for lead and click on it, then click 'Properties' in the top menu. Try clicking the name in the upper left view to see a blow out description of lead. Then click the different menu items while lead is highlighted - 'Electrons' allows manipulation of the left menu model with your mouse, 'Isotopes' shows all option when you click on any element with your mouse, 'Compounds' allows you to build chemical compounds in the space in the middle by dragging and dropping. Try creating the compound for lead dioxide (you can look it up), the substance used for making matches.

Something to geek out on: Major countries in lead mine production worldwide from 2010 to 2021

Lead is a chemical element that is characterized as a base post-transition metal. Australia holds the world’s largest lead reserves, at some 36 million metric tons as of 2020, although China has the highest lead mine production worldwide. Prior to the recognition of lead’s toxicity in the late nineteenth century, lead was used in a variety of applications that it is no longer used for today due to health concerns. However, there are still many important end-uses for lead today, such as batteries, bullets, paints, alloys, and more.

‘You don’t know how to manage Looking-glass cakes,’ the Unicorn remarked. ‘Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards.’
original illustration by John Tenniel