Lead (Pb)

Pb, Bly och blyföreningar, som Pb


Lead and compounds

CAS no


Molecular formula


Lead is a soft, metallic element with high conductivity. This description refers to lead and lead compounds.


Lead is a well-known element that has been used for thousands of years. Today lead is mainly used in batteries within the automobile industry. Lead is also used in accumulators, ammunition, glass, cables, fishing leaders and keys, and to a lesser extent in rust protection paints.1 2 3 4

Sources and transportation pathways

Lead occurs naturally in the environment in small amounts or concentrated in sulphide-rich ores. Lead may also be emitted to the environment by diffuse emissions and emissions from point sources. China is the world’s largest producer of lead, but lead is also extracted in Sweden with more than 40 % of the EU’s lead production.5

Diffuse emissions of lead have decreased steadily since the 1990’s, especially from the transport sector because of the transitions to lead-free gasoline.6 7 Sweden’s emissions from point sources are relatively small compared to many other European countries and originate mainly from lead production. A smaller amount is released to water during processing and production of paper pulp.

Effects on environment and health

Lead is poisonous both to humans and animals already at low concentrations and among sea eagles, lead poisoning is a common cause of death.8 Lead in fish is also a well-known environmental problem. Humans are exposed to lead mainly through food and drinking water.9 Other possible routes of exposure is through inhalation, dust, dirt or by contact with products such as ammunition.

Lead may cause nerve damage and affect kidneys and blood formation. Children and foetuses are especially vulnerable to lead exposure.10 11

International agreements and regulations

Lead is regulated by the UN Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the EU Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC), the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), the EU Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC), the EU Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC), the EU Sewage Sludge Directive (86/278/EEC) and the EU Regulation on setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs (EC 1881/2006). Limit values for lead in drinking water is also regulated in the provision of the Swedish National Food Agency. 12 In addition, the presence of lead in products is regulated in different EU directives and regulations, such as REACH. The UN Protocol on PRTRs and the EU E-PRTR regulation regulate how data on lead emissions is made available.


7Storch et al., 2003. Four decades of gasoline lead emissions and control policies in Europe: a retrospective assessment. Science of the Total Environment, 311 (1-3): 151-176.
9Dallinger et al. 1987. Contaminated food and uptake of heavy metals by fish: a review and a proposal for further research. Oecologica, 73:91-98.
10Flora et al. 2012. Toxicity of lead: A review with recent updates. Interdiciplinary toxicology, 5(2): 47-58
12 https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/globalassets/om-oss/lagstiftning/dricksvatten---naturl-mineralv---kallv/slvfs-2001-30-kons-2015-3-webb.pdf