Lead

A high-performance metal

The high density of lead (11.3 g/cm3 as opposed to 7.5 g/cm3 for cast iron) allows for :

  • Reducing the wetted surface
  • Lowering the centre of gravity, thereby creating a more shallow draught
  • Designing a stiff boat, with more form stability

Being completely inert, lead :

  • Is marine environmentally-friendly
  • Does not rust
  • Can be infinitely, and practically 100%, recycled

Our lead :

  • Comes from ingots, not from secondary, scrap lead
  • Is graded…
  • Is refined…

Origins

For the past 2,000 years, lead has been extracted from mines. It is metallic-grey in colour.
Lead has been used since the beginning of time to make water pipes, decorative objects, and all sorts of implements. It has been used in the cosmetics industry and in paints as an antioxidant and a pigment…
It was also used as ballast on board galleons (ingots over 300 years old and still intact have been found at the bottom of the ocean).
And while lead is a non-renewable resource, it has the distinct advantage of being 100% and infinitely recyclable.
Today, this virtuous circle is correctly implemented by long-established recycling networks and facilities. Natural resources are preserved and transportation reduced by recycling and re-using lead at its place of consumption.
The recycling of used lead requires only half the energy needed to produce lead from ore. Compared to other metals, its low melting point reduces the associated energy costs.

Lead ore : approximately 3 million tonnes are mined each year
AUSTRALIA : 25%
CHINA : 25%
UNITED STATES : 15%
PERU : 10%
MEXICO : 5%

Annual consumption is proportionate to production at approximately 7 million tonnes/year.
Recycling accounts for the difference of 4 million tonnes between mining and consumption figures.

Grandes caractéristiques

Lead is a high-density, ductile metal, but not very strong in its pure form :

Toxicity

The ingestion or inhalation of lead in high doses can cause lead poisoning: levels greater than 100 µg/dL in the blood over several months or years (normal blood lead levels: between 4 and 8 µg/dL).
Children who are still growing and developing are most at risk; blood lead levels should remain below 10 µg/dL.
Regulations state that in the case of adults exposed to lead, blood lead levels should not exceed 30 µg/dL for women and 40 µg/dL for men. In the industrial sector, it is an obligation for all workers exposed to lead to have two blood tests per year. They must also take two showers daily, during working hours, at the end of the morning and evening shifts. The cleaning of work clothing is the responsibility of the employer, the waste water being treated as ultimate waste.
Lead oxides and vapours present the highest toxicity levels. Lead in its metal state is very stable over time, including in aquatic environments as it does not readily dissolve in water.
Lead-based paints actually contain lead oxide. This lead oxide is responsible for the famous red-orange colour of “red lead” (lead tetroxide, also called minium). Old, chipped paints containing lead oxide, and the dust produced by sanding these paints, are particularly toxic.
Lead poisoning was originally called ‘Saturnism’ in reference to the planet Saturn, the symbol for lead in alchemy, and to the symptoms, considered to be similar to those of a person of saturnine character. The controversy over the lead shot used by hunters stems from the fact that ducks commonly mistake it for the tiny pebbles they regularly swallow to aid their digestion. This lead shot ends up scattered throughout the natural habitats of wild game birds.
Lead in drinking water: the decision to phase out lead water pipes was motivated by the desire to continue eliminating potential sources of contamination. The main issue here concerned drinking water that had been standing in lead pipes for long periods. This problem had a short-term solution: for a country residence that had been unoccupied all year, for example, one only had to run the taps for five minutes to evacuate the standing water.
Plumbers, however, were directly exposed to lead poisoning, with no basic precautions being taken by the profession.

Price

The price of lead has fluctuated considerably in recent years, more so than most of the other raw materials.
The main reasons for this include consumption levels in China (batteries), speculation, and the closing down of a certain number of sites for HSE reasons. It has also been impacted by the fluctuating euro-dollar exchange rate.
In Europe, the price of lead is fixed on the London Metal Exchange.

Zinc (density of 7.1 g/cm3) and aluminium have similar prices, while that of tin (7.3 g/cm3) is approximately € 15,000 per tonne, and tungsten (18 g/cm3) approximately € 35,000 per tonne.

Applications – Uses

  • As shot for hunting, fishing or adjustable ballast
  • As sheets for roofs, radiation shielding or soundproofing
  • As pipes, formerly for drinking water
  • It can be finely worked and moulded, stamped and cut for industrial and technical applications (balance weights, lead seals, keels, etc.)
  • It can be used as an alloy with other metals (tin, copper, etc.) for telecommunication networks, cables, connections, etc

World consumption : 7 million tonnes/year (of which 200,000 tonnes in France)
Batteries : 75%
Finely-worked applications (including fishing) : 13%
Cables, alloys : 6%
Chemistry : 3%

In France, the industrial consumption of lead for batteries (especially car batteries) has dropped significantly over recent years.