18 October 2010

The Economics of Lead

The United States produced 15% of the world's lead and uses 17% of it. About 88% of U.S. lead is for lead acid batteries, primarily for vehicles. About 89% of U.S. lead production is from recycled materials. About 97% of lead acid batteries (mostly automotive) are recycled. The demand for few products is so completely met through recycling.

Source: The World Almanac 2010.

Lead's high density, low melting points, electrical properties and softness makes is useful in many applications. But, lead has systemically been removed from, or is being phased out of use in many other products, such as gasoline, paint, joining cast iron water pipes, electrical solder, hot metal typesetting, shotgun pellets, fishing tackle, fruit orchard pesticides, car body filler, and glass because of the high toxicity of the heavy metal became clear in the 1970s. Lead poisoning turns out to have a host of nasty consequences even in quite low doseages.

It is one of the leading environmental factors that suppresses IQ and is often transmitted to infants from old lead based paint and lead from old plumbing fixtures in old houses. This is most common in cheap rental properties. Abatement of lead exposure has been quite tightly linked statistically to declining crime around the time that infants who otherwise would have been exposed to lead reach the ages where crimes are most often committed.

A small amount of lead is used, however, in craft produced leaded glass, oil paints and statutes.

It is still use ins scuba diving weights, as radiation shielding, for organ pipes, in roofing materials, in machine tool parts, in ceramic glazes, in PVC plastics, in aviation fuel for piston driven aircraft, and in semiconductors.

Lead prices have fluctuated wildly between a high of $2,220 a ton, and a low of about $870 per ton, around its long term norm of about $1,200 a ton, during turbulent commodity price markets starting in early 2007, and is currently near an all time high.

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