Although we've understood the usefulness of lead since ancient times, it's taken us until recently to fully understand the danger lead poses to our health. What else should we know about this metal?
The chemical symbol for lead is Pb. The symbol and the word "plumbing" come from the Latin word plumbum, which means "liquid silver."
Lead has no function in the human body and is quite toxic.
Your body treats lead like calcium, so it accumulates in places where calcium is stored, such as your bones. Because calcium has essential roles in hormones, muscle contractions and the communication between nerve cells, lead can interfere with these processes.
Lead is found in the Earth's crust, primarily as a sulfide (PbS) in the mineral galena.
The element's high density makes it ideal for absorbing gamma radiation and X-rays.
Electrowinning removes impurities from lead with the help of an electrical current.
In the United States, a ban on using lead additives in motor fuels took effect in February 1996. Many other countries have enacted similar bans.
Lead can cause not only high blood pressure and infertility, but also a slew of other health issues relating to the brain and nervous system, heart and blood vessels, kidneys, digestive system and reproductive system.
A child's brain still has plasticity, or ability to make new connections -- but lead interferes with the formation of these new connections.
In extreme cases when medications are not enough, doctors use chelation therapy. In this therapy, a chelating agent such as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is infused into the blood stream so that the agent can bind to the lead. Then, the kidneys excrete the lead-bound EDTA.