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Lead Mining Stewardship - Grey Lead and the Role of The LEAD Group

Elizabeth O’Brien, Partner of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Partnership for Cleaner Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV), and President, The LEAD Group Incorporated; Ian Smith, Analyst; and Anne Roberts, Journalist. Edited by Rachelle Sullivan, Intern.  
Fact Sheet created 11 August 2006

Environmental health NGOs provide independent critique of the adverse impacts of the increasing volume of lead mined each year. The claims that “lead is the most recycled material used today”  and about 97% of the lead-acid batteries currently in use will be recycled to make new batteries” [1] are unsupported by evidence and further rendered hollow when little or no resources are allocated to Product Stewardship, which is a product-centred approach to environmental protection. It calls on those in the product lifecycle – miners, smelters, manufacturers, retailers, users, recyclers and disposers – to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products NGOs are independent entities with well developed systems and campaigns to implement and monitor social change. The LEAD Group, founded in Australia in 1991 by parents of lead poisoned children, has in the last 15 years developed advocacy systems involving regulators, industry and the wider community aimed at lead abatement, specifically, the elimination of lead poisoning (globally) by 2012 and protection of the environment from lead. The LEAD Group provides staff for the unique-in-the-world, free-to-users Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS).

GLASS provides information, advice and referrals in relation to the management and prevention of lead poisoning and lead contamination.  GLASS can refer callers to community or other groups, specialist tradespeople, organisations, etc, as appropriate. GLASS also provides information through The LEAD Group website and maintains a database including a library database.

GLASS currently runs nine egroups ranging in lead related topics and with the largest currently being an egroup for parents of lead poisoned kids with autism with over 280 members. GLASS has written and web published over 30 different fact sheets covering topics ranging from state/territory income from mining royalties for lead to lead in breast milk. GLASS has distributed over 680,000 library items in 16 languages since 1995. The GLASS database has over 4700 listed experts for referrals in medical, environmental and other lead related fields.

GLASS is funded through corporate sponsorship, government grants and private donations. Currently our only funding is under two grants from the Department of Environment and Heritage, one for administrative costs for $25000 lasting from 1/12/05 until 30/11/06 and one for a manager and administrator wage of $28000 and $24000 respectively for the financial year 2006-07.

Due to funding constraints GLASS extensively utilises volunteers for its day to day operations. GLASS currently has 23 active volunteers who do everything from keeping up to date with the data entry of calls, doing research to answer complicated enquiries, keeping our website and library up to date, accounting, systems administration and special projects. GLASS also takes on university interns to do short term projects, one of which is currently a UTS Student doing a project on product stewardship of Australian lead.

GLASS provides lead poisoning / lead contamination prevention and management advice directly and has received such information in its capacity as a clearinghouse in over 48,500 individual calls (phone or email) with people from over 80 countries [2]. The organisation also provides web-published information at , which is one of the most accessed lead information websites on the Internet, having over one and two thirds of a million visitors from 227 countries and Territories [3]. The only global estimate of the number of people who are lead poisoned is the quite conservative World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that in the year 2000, there were 120 million lead poisoned people [4] . With less than 1% of people who are lead poisoned accessing information through GLASS, the majority of the 120 million people clearly do not have reliable access to information regarding lead poisoning, especially, how to prevent it.

The LEAD Group works on the definition of “lead poisoned” as: having a blood lead level which exceeds the World Health Organisation’s goal to be less than 10 micrograms per decilitre (10 µg/dL). This is based on the US Centers for Disease Control 1991 statement that having a blood lead level below 10 µg/dL is defined as “not lead poisoned.” [5]

Through the data collected in GLASS’s operation, The LEAD Group provides long term focus on lead issues through data capture and analysis. This system can monitor the effectiveness of change initiatives over time, for instance, to ensure the legitimacy and success of the “greening” of lead production and recycling.

The LEAD Group is concerned that despite the excellent policies of the Green Leadtm  initiative, in exporting more lead than any other country, Australia’s moral obligation to also “export” the lead management knowledge and counselling services is not being met, particularly in relation to “grey lead”. The LEAD Group believes that information and counselling currently provided is inadequate compared to the volume of lead produced, and the documented toll in real human terms it extracts.

What is “grey lead”?

“Grey lead” is a newly-created term defined here as all lead distributed prior to or outside of any current orchestrated approach to its management. It consists of lead already in the environment from some thousands of years of failing to know of lead’s capacity to poison, and including lead exported to under-regulated and under-informed countries ignorant of the fact that lead is pervasively used in products, and so outside the scope of control of any current Australian initiatives.

Specific examples of “Grey lead” include:

  • the majority of lead acid batteries (LABs) that are handled by companies that are NOT part of the Green Leadtm   Consortium;
  • the 25% of LABs that are NOT recycled [6];
  • the nearly 30% of lead metal that is NOT used to make LABs [7] but is made into less-sustainable products with far lower recycling rates or for which recycling is dangerous due to the presence of other toxics eg solder. According to the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, “Lead can be reclaimed from solder wastes, but recycling lead/tin solders can be extremely dangerous because emissions of dioxins, beryllium, arsenic, isocyanates and lead itself are likely.” [8]

Australian Lead – “Green” or “grey”?

The Australian mining industry is aiming to be sustainable and minimise harm to humans and the environment. Mining, by definition, cannot be “sustainable”. It can, however, minimise its impact on the environment and human health. The Green Leadä initiative aims to do this. However, the “Green” of the Green Leadä initiative does not transfer to grey lead - the lead already in the environment (e.g. in paint and petrol) and lead or lead products that are lost from the Green Leadä “cycle”. In other words, “greenness” is not inherent in the lead but in the process of its life-cycle management, and “green” lead quickly fades to grey if the lead escapes from the managed loop. All the lead produced prior to Cannington lead mine taking on its Green Leadä credentials for example, is grey. Grey lead has done and will continue to do damage unless the effort is made to manage and control the full production cycle and recycling, including pre-existing products and contamination.

The majority of calls to GLASS relate to lead poisoning and lead contamination risks of grey lead: in house paint and other surface coatings, ceiling dust in building cavities (containing the lead from petrol and industrial pollution), in batteries, ammunition, electronics, rolled and extruded products, lead lighting, plastics, rubber, etc, that is, the hazards from historical uses of lead, due to the failure to understand the consequences of past and continuing lead production. Until a dedicated government and industry sponsored initiative aims to eradicate these issues arising from the past, and continuing to arise from present mining activity, Australia’s lead producing industry will not be perceived, and cannot state with integrity, that it is “green” nor sustainable.

If, as most people imagine, there is no more leaded petrol and leaded residential paint in the world and lead mining is a “sustainable development”, then you would expect that there would be no lead poisoned people in the world. One way in which this idea can become a reality is by way of preventing lead from mining companies from being sold to the one manufacturer who uses lead to make the leaded petrol additive, that is, Innospec in the UK. If Innospec could not buy lead, hundreds of millions of children in the 81 countries still selling leaded petrol [9] would not have to wait until 2010 for the SAICM (Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management) goal of a global lead petrol ban to be achieved [10].

Lead mining will be able to legitimately and credibly claim to be sustainable, when the only uses of lead are recyclable, non -dispersive and no lead contamination is caused during the product life cycle, so eliminating lead poisoning.

The assumption that there is necessarily a large economic cost to implementing a sound environmental recycling policy has been disproved with many examples of successful changes with a cost neutral and even cost benefit. The LEAD Group looks forward to support from government and industry in supporting a sustainable lead production industry, by providing a global information service including data collection and analysis service that monitors the effectiveness of the Green Leadtm Initiative and supports Australia’s claim of having the most sustainable mining industry.

What is needed to turn grey lead “green”?

  1. All Australian lead mining companies (ie Consolidated Broken Hill (CBH), Magellan Metals and Kagara Zinc Ltd) would place a priority on reducing the size of their ecological footprint, generally defined as a designated area affected or covered by a device or phenomenon, as Zinifex, Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Perilya have already done. [11] The footprint would be regarded as including Stewardship issues, that is, well beyond the mine gate.
  2.  All Australian lead mines would comply with Green Leadä Consortium principles, as per BHP Billiton’s Cannington lead mine in Queensland.
  3. All Australian lead mining, smelting, manufacturing and recycling companies would change their practice and improve their performance in order to comply with the Green Leadä Consortium’s assessment tool (once it is completed) and achieve a 100% recycling rate for lead acid batteries
  4. As for uranium production, Australian lead mining companies would join with other lead mining companies and international agencies in a global effort to stop lead being sold to the one manufacturer, UK company Innospec Inc, who will use it to make leaded petrol additive.
  5. Global effort would stop lead being knowingly sold to manufacturers who will use it to make leaded cosmetics, products that put lead into food (leaded candy, lead soldered cans, leaded curry powder etc), Ayurvedic medicine (in which lead is added to increase the weight), folk medicines (based on false claims of lead’s health benefits), leaded toys, jewellery, residential paints (and eventually all inks and surface coatings) and PVC (and eventually all foams and plastics), lead wheel weights, lead fishing sinkers and tackle, lead solder for plumbing and electronics, etc, that is, all dispersive uses of lead for which replacements are available.
  6. Australian lead mining, smelting, manufacturing and recycling companies would support any efforts by governments and organisations of governments to stop the manufacture of dispersive uses of lead for which replacements are available and would report such activities in Stewardship reporting, including sales of lead or lead products or leaded waste that were prevented due to the company’s policy of preventing leakage of lead from the controlled or formal lead acid battery cycle. An example of such activity would be a drive by lead acid battery recyclers to increase collection of used batteries within Australia to 100% of the estimated 95,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries that arise per year, by perhaps paying more for each battery returned and supporting a Stewardship levy on new batteries sold, to cover collection costs. An estimated 20,000 tonnes per annum (21% of used batteries that arise in Australia) are either still in dumped vehicles or dumped as batteries or buried or "recycled" in whole car body recycling and dumped as flock overseas or illegally exported as batteries shipped to Asia in contravention of the Basel Convention. [12]
  7. Australian lead smelting companies would make lead for lead acid batteries that can be recycled into new lead acid batteries ad infinitum, without the addition of newly mined lead. According to Dr Peter Hurley of Blake International Limited, an OH&S consultancy in the UK, battery makers can only use two thirds (65%) of the lead recovered from used lead acid batteries. “Even in the US, much of the recovered lead is exported. The reason this is so is because they use lead-antimony alloy, but cannot use that alloy in the anode plate of the battery as its too corrosive in that application. If they used lead-tin alloys then they could reuse nearly all the material they recovered/recycled, provided they could keep it separate from the lead-antimony.” [13].
  8. Australian lead smelting companies would include in their Stewardship reports for both primary and secondary smelters, the annual tonnage of leaded wastes recycled for their lead and other heavy metal content eg ceiling dust and other building cavity dusts and used/removed paint debris, as well as secondary lead smelters reporting a breakdown by percentage as to the source of their feed eg lead acid batteries, lead flashing and other building scrap etc. The report should note continuous reduction of the need for addition of newly mined lead into the battery recycling lead stream.
  9. Australian lead mining companies would commission GLASS to report on the latest news on lead received at the GLASS information service and clearinghouse. Reports would include impacts of the estimated 300 million metric tons out there in the world [14] of grey lead in all its forms, in terms of potential for high blood lead levels / lead contamination levels as well as numbers of people / products / area of land or volume of air or water affected and these reports would form part of the annual assessment of the size of the company’s environmental footprint in their Environmental Reports. Recent examples would include a US child’s death from ingestion of a lead charm on a bracelet provided free with a pair of shoes made by Reebok International Ltd and consequent recall of 300,000 heart-shaped charm bracelets in the US which followed the world’s largest recall of 150 million pieces of leaded jewellery in the US in 2004 [15], and the need for similar recalls in other countries. With lead being the most researched toxicant [16] in the world, it is also critical that the lead industry keeps up to date on the latest findings eg research indicating that even low blood lead levels, between 5-9 µg/dL, carry an increased risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, and that “data from 1999-2002, suggests an elevated risk of peripheral arterial disease, hypertension, and renal dysfunction in a population with blood lead levels averaging approximately 2 µg/dL.” [Source: Alliance for Healthy Homes, Alliance Alert, August 2008] Previous research that found an increased risk of early death associated with a blood lead level above 20 µg/dL was estimated to shorten the lives of 30 million Americans [17].
  10. The lead industry would ensure lead mining earnings fund lead mining Stewardship work with governments, NGOs and GLASS to develop public health policies to firstly review recent research on lead exposures and lead’s health effects and find out the extent of lead poisoning across all ages and risk factors in every country where Australian lead has gone and then set a blood lead goal (Australia rescinded it’s 1993 goal that all Australians have a blood lead level less than 10 µg/dL, on 31 Dec 2005) and targets, and act to reduce blood lead levels including through education programs and information & counselling service provision. With corporate sponsorship in addition to government funding, GLASS staff would not need to be mainly transient volunteers but employees who could run long-term outreach projects such as pro-active media campaigns and web-publishing English and non-English lead management information and remote communication (improvements to web information , E-groups , forums, etc) and building up the lists of overseas experts on lead. Since Australian lead mining Stewardship is a marketable concept on the world stage, this expenditure on finding out where Australian lead goes and its impacts, and reducing them, should be seen as a vital step towards halving resource use and potentially doubling wealth.

[1] Source: Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association US “The Truth About Lead Acid Batteries” 1995
  Source: GLASS Database 11/8/06
[3]  Source: David Ratcliffe, LEAD Group Webmaster 11/8/06
[4] Source: L Fewtrell, R Kaufman, A Pruss-Ustun, “Lead: Assessing the environmental burden of disease at national and local levels” 2003
[5] Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “Preventing Lead Poisoning In Young Children” 1991
[6] Source: Dr Peter Hurley, Blake International, UK 2005
[7] Based on the statement: “Lead-acid batteries for automotive, industrial and consumer purposes account for over 70% of the world’s demand for lead.” Source: Minerals and Metals Sector, Natural Resources Canada, 2004
[8] Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 25-29 Oct 2004
Sources: International Fuel Quality Center (IFQC) and Partnership for Cleaner Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) et al, 20 Oct 2005, cited in [Also see the up-to-date Countries where Leaded Petrol is Possibly Still Sold for Road Use [List of six countries in region, alphabetical and population order] As at 17th June 2011. Total Population Directly Affected: 194,770,689, at ]
[10] Source: Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management: Global Plan of Action page 33 of 84, 6 June 2006
[11] Sources: Google searches for <footprint> on;;;;;; and
[12] Source: The LEAD Group Inc, 19 Jul 2005
[13] Source: Elizabeth O'Brien, Cornelia Dost and Bei Qu, 1 Nov 2005
[14] Source: National Research Council, “Measuring Lead Exposure in Infants, Children and Other Sensitive Populations”, Washington 1993
Source: CDC, 23 Mar 2006. Death of a Child After Ingestion of a Metallic Charm --- Minnesota, 2006
[16] Toxicant refers to toxic substances that are produced by or are a by-product of anthropogenic (human-made) activities. Source: Klaassen, CD (2001) ‘Casarett and Doull’s Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons’, 6th Edition, p.13, published by McGraw Hill, United States. Toxic substances are defined as one with the inherent ability to cause systemic damage to a living organism – another word for it being poison. Source: NOVA: Science in the News, ‘The bitter-sweet taste of toxic substances’, February 1999
[17] Source: Chicago Tribune, “Study links early adult deaths to lead - 30 million in U.S. could be at risk”, 27  Dec 2002;

To assist lead mining /smelting companies in carrying out their lead product stewardship responsibilities, The LEAD Group has begun gathering links to lead companies on each continent after finding that no single listing of all lead companies appears to have been attempted online. 

The LEAD Group Inc. Fact Sheet Index

NSW Lead Reference Centre and NSW Government Publications On this site

  1. About the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS)

  2. Main Sources of Lead

  3. How Would You Know If You or Your Child Was lead poisoned?

  4. Lead aware housekeeping

  5. Ceiling dust & lead poisoning

  6. Is your yard lead safe?

  7. Health Impacts of lead poisoning

  8. Rotary Questionnaire

  9. Lead poisoned Pets and Your Family

  10. Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk Factor Questionnaire

  11. Is Your Child Safe From Lead? - What Can You Do About Lead?

  12. Lead in Drinking Water in Australia

  13. Have We Really Resolved The Lead Issue?

  14. The Importance of the Availability of "Spot Tests" for Lead in Paint

  15. Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy

  16. Breastfeeding and Lead

  17. Lead in breast milk

  18. Beware The Lead In Lead Lighting

  19. Renting and Lead

  20. What to do if you have too much lead in your tank water

  21. Lead Contamination in Stormwater

  22. Contamination At Shooting Ranges

  23. Banned: Leaded Wick Candles

  24. Lead, Ageing and Death

  25. Metal miniatures: How to minimise the risks of lead poisoning and contamination

  26. 7 Point Plan for the MANAGEMENT OF LEAD by Australian parents and carers

  27. Countries where Leaded Petrol is Possibly Still Sold for Road Use, As at 17th June 2011

  28. Lead Poisoning And The Brain - Cognitive Deficits And Mental Illness

  29. Facts and Firsts of Lead

  30. Lead mining royalties by state and territory

  31. Lead Mining Stewardship - Grey Lead and the Role of The LEAD Group

  32. Preventative Strategies of The LEAD Group

  33. What do Doctors need to do about Lead?

  34. A Naturopath's Experience Of Lead & People With Diagnosed Mental Illness

  35. Case File: Helping Manage Australian Lead in Petrol - How GLASS Works

  36. Glass Web & Service-Users, Experts & Volunteers, by Country; Countries with Leaded Petrol for Road Use & Worst Pollution

  37. Lead in ceiling dust

  38. Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely

  39. Esperance parliamentary inquiry follow-up factsheet: Where to from Here??

  40. Broken Hill lead miners factsheet 1893 with Note 20081015

  41. Helping a Doctor Help 35,000 Lead-Poisoned People Around the Lead Smelter at La Oroya in Peru
    Ayuda a un doctor que ayuda 35,000 personas envenenadas por plomo alrededor de la fundidora de plomo en la Oroya-Peru

  42. Fact sheet for Australian toy importers and traders

  43. Iron Nutrition & Lead Toxicity
    Informe de Acciones – Hierro y Plomo en la Nutrición

  44. Sanitarium-Are You getting Enough Iron

  45. Do-It-Yourself-Lead-Safe-Test-Kits-flyer

  46. Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  47. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to both adults and children

  48. Lead Exposure & Alzheimer’s Disease: Is There A Link?

  49. In CHINA - Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  50. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you take advantage of the Australian government's Energy Efficient Homes Package: Insulation Program

  51. Alperstein et al Lead Alert - A Guide For Health Professionals 1994

  52. Ceiling Dust WorkCover Guide Lee Schreiber Final Nov 1999

  53. What can I do about climate change AND lead?

  54. The Need for Expert Clinical Assessments in Diagnosis Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

  55. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you have insulation installed

  56. Thirty Thought-Starters on Ceiling Void Dust in Homes

  57. Pectin: Panacea for both lead poisoning and lead contamination

  58. Nutrients that reduce lead poisoning June 2010

  59. Lead poisoning and menopause

  60. Fact sheet For Schoolkids From Professor Knowlead About Lead

  61. Prevention of Exposure to Lead at Work in Indonesia

  62. Mencegah kontak dengan timbal di tempat kerja di Indonesia

  63. How to Protect Your Family from Lead in Indonesia

  64. Bagaimana melindungi keluargamu dari timbal di Indonesia

  65. Cigarette Smoking & Lead Toxicity
     صحيفة معلومات: التدخين والتسمم بالرصاص

  66. Medical Evaluation Questionnaire For Occupational Lead Exposure

  67. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to children

  68. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to adults

  69. Biosolids used as fertilizer in China and other countries

  70. What are the lead poisoning risks of a lead pellet, bullet or shot lodged in the body?

  71. Alcohol’s link to higher lead and iron levels

  72. USA Case Definition of Adult (including Occupational) & Child Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL)

  73. Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children - A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention

  74. Occupational Health & Safety Fact Sheet Dangers of lead for roofers

  75. Let’s Make Leaded Petrol History - Let’s Make Leaded Gasoline History

  76. Lead, Your Health & the Environment. Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean, Macedonian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese 

  77. Lead Safe Housekeeping

  78. Old Lead Paint

  79. Working safely with lead

  80. A Renovator's Guide To The Dangers Of Lead (Brochure 30 pages)

  81. A Guide For Health Care Professionals (Brochure 34 pages)

  82. A Guide To Keeping Your Family Safe From Lead (Brochure 20 pages)

  83. Lead Hazard Management In Children's Services (Brochure 15 pages)

  84. A Guide To Dealing With Soil That Might Be Lead-Contaminated

  85. Exposure Assessment: Lead Neurotoxicity - Is the Center for Disease Control's goal to reduce lead below 10 µg/dl blood in all children younger than 72 months by 2010, good enough?


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Last Updated 01 May 2014
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