Lead – a case of right answer, wrong question

lead work

Green initiatives like recycling can have remarkable successes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good for the planet, communities or those working in ‘green’ jobs.

A 2009 report, ‘World Mineral Production 2003-2007’ [pdf], notes that more than 50 per cent of refined lead is now produced from recycled material, dramatically reducing energy consumption during production.

But the report also reveals a marked year-on-year increase in refined lead production worldwide over the period, up 18 per cent from 6.9m tonnes in 2003 to 8.1m tonnes 2007.

Dangerous lead’, a new report from Hazards magazine, warns that few countries around the world take seriously the problem of chronic, potentially deadly diseases caused by low level lead doses. Statutory lead exposure standards are almost always set dangerously high.

The report, which received extensive media coverage, including features on Channel 4 News and in the Guardian newspaper, resulted in the UK government’s safety watchdog, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), this week withdrawing its ‘Lead and you’ leaflet.

“This suggests two things,” the Hazards report notes. “Firstly, HSE is conceding its leaflet is overly complacent on health risks and is not-fit-for-purpose; and secondly, the only information HSE produced for a lay audience on lead risks at work has now been removed from the website. Instead of providing complacent information for the lead exposed workforce, it is now providing no information at all.”

A truly green solution to toxic problems is to reduce consumption and to ensure adequate protection in those instances where people remain at risk of exposure. Lead, a toxin whose harmful effects have been known since antiquity, is a case history in how we continue to get this seriously wrong.

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