The Basics



What is lead?

  • Lead is a soft, malleable, heavy metal. Lead is very stable and resistant to corrosion, although acidic water may leach lead out of pipes, fittings, and solder. It does not conduct electricity. Lead is an effective shield against radiation. Lead occurs naturally, but much of its presence in the environment stems from its historic widespread use in paint and gasoline and from ongoing and historic mining and commercial operations. In a few countries, automotive gasoline still contains lead. Lead comes in two basic forms: organic and inorganic. Exposure to organic lead is generally limited to occupational settings. Leaded gasoline exhaust contributed to ambient inorganic lead contamination. Old paint, soil, and various products described below can contain inorganic lead.

What are the common uses of lead?

  • A variety of commercial and military applications commonly use lead. A number of laws and regulations tightly control releases.
  • Commercial and military uses of lead include metal working, batteries, solder in electronics, radiation shielding, piping (other than drinking water), automotive wheel balancing, weights (sinkers) for fishing, as an additive in aviation fuel for some aircraft, various manufacturing processes, and small caliber ammunition.
  • Military-specific uses of lead include larger caliber ammunition, munitions, and rocket propellants. Historically, paint and automotive gasoline contained lead as an additive, but these applications have been phased out in the U.S. Its use in solder for electronics is diminishing rapidly due to lead’s restriction by the European Union’s Regulation on Hazardous Substances, which has spurred worldwide adoption of alternative materials.

Why is lead on the DoD Emerging Contaminants Action List?

  • Emerging science and information about the toxicity of lead is changing assumptions about levels of lead in blood that are considered not harmful. This new information may result in increased environmental and occupational controls.
  • Risk information compiled by the USEPA for its development of a National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for lead recently caused it to conclude that stricter regulation is warranted. We believe that other regulatory programs and agencies may revise their health-based regulations. Placement on the DoD Action List indicates that there are high mission risks related to the continued use of lead. DoD may need to change its management of processes and products containing lead.
  • Another reason lead is on the Action List is that the lead-free substitutes now used as a result of the European Union’s restrictions on lead in electronics equipment do not all meet DoD performance requirements. Lead-free solders can cause short-circuiting in critical electronics. Research on lead-free alternatives can identify and address potential impacts to product reliability and sustainment without compromising performance.

How is DoD managing the risk posed by lead?

  • DoD complies with applicable state and federal regulations and then takes additional protective measures if it has determined that the risks are still unacceptable.
  • As new information becomes available, DoD adjusts its policies and standards to protect people and the environment while completing its mission. The DoD ammunition community has already determined that addressing the requirements established by the new NAAQS for lead is a top priority
  • DoD is exploring means to eliminate the use of lead where possible. Where lead cannot be replaced, DoD is taking steps to minimize its use and address environmental, safety, and occupational concerns.
  • DoD is analyzing how the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) law is affecting DoD’s readiness through the replacement of lead in electronics and determining means to mitigate impacts of unacceptable lead-free substitutes in its supply chain. DoD continues to explore other means to manage risk from current lead-free substitutes.

Where can I get more information?

General Information

Lead was added to the emerging contaminants program's 'Action List' October 13, 2009.  More information will be forthcoming and posted on this site when it becomes available.

Last Modified: 01 October 2015 at 07:00