Lead and water quality

Lead: The primary natural source of lead is in the mineral galena (lead sulfide). It also occurs as carbonate, sulfate, and in several other forms; the solubility of these minerals, lead oxides, and other inorganic salts is low. Major modern day uses of lead are for batteries, pigments, and other metal products. In the past, lead was also used as an additive in gasoline and became dispersed throughout the environment in the air, soils, and waters as a result of automobile exhaust emissions. For years this was the primary source of lead in the environment. However, since the replacement of leaded gasoline with unleaded gasoline in the mid-1980's, lead from that source has virtually disappeared. Mining, smelting and other industrial emissions along with combustion sources and solid waste incinerators are now the primary sources of lead. Another source of lead is paint chips and dust from buildings built before 1978 when lead paint was widely used.

Lead is not an essential element. In humans it can affect the kidneys, the blood and most importantly the nervous system and brain. Even low levels in the blood have been associated with high blood pressure and reproductive defects. In vertebrates, the lead is stored in the bones.

Lead reaches water bodies either through urban runoff or discharges such as sewage treatment plants and industrial plants. It also may be transferred from the air to surface water through precipitation (rain or snow). Toxic to both plant and animal life, lead's toxicity depends on its solubility and this, in turn, depends on pH and is affected by hardness.

Criteria: The level considered protective for aquatic life at a hardness of 100 is less than 0.003 mg/L. Use as a domestic water source requires less than 0.05 mg/L. Drinking water must contain less than 0.015 mg/L.


2007 Arizona Board of Regents for The University of Arizona