Lead Smelting

Lead Smelting

Fact Sheet: Lead Smelting – Ranked #2


Estimated Global DALYs: 2,600,000


What is the industry?


Lead smelting is an industrial process that refines lead ores to remove impurity, using furnaces and through the addition of fluxes and other chemical agents. Primary smelting uses mined ore and secondary lead smelting uses lead from recycled products. After the ore is crushed, it is smelted to melt the lead into a liquefied form. The lead is separated and the remaining slag is waste that can contain zinc, iron, silica, lime and some traces of lead. In well-regulated processes, the slag will be recycled to prevent pollutants from escaping.


What are the pollutants?


The top pollutant from lead smelting is lead as it is the input and output of the process. Other pollutants used during processing and present at polluted sites include cadmium and mercury.


What are the exposure pathways?


Lead is released as an emission during the heating process and is either directly inhaled or settles into soil, dust and water and is indirectly inhaled or ingested. Slag or waste materials can enter the environment when waste is improperly disposed; often waste is left uncovered, or disposed of directly into surface water in under regulated or informal lead smelting operations.


What are the health risks?


When lead is inhaled or ingested it is stored in the body and accumulates over time. Lead is designated as a possible human carcinogen, and can cause neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems. Neurological problems include mild mental retardation, decreased IQ, shortened attention spans, loss of executive function, increased dyslexia and diminished productivity.

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