Lead is a chemical element with the element symbol Pb, derived from its Latin name plumbum. It is a toxic heavy metal, is easily malleable and has a comparatively low melting point. Its easy workability has meant that it has been used in a variety of ways since the Neolithic period. Its harmful effect on health was also known for a long time, but was often forgotten for economic reasons. Even the Roman author Vitruv considered the use of lead for drinking water pipes to be harmful to health and recommended using clay pipes instead, if possible. Nevertheless, lead drinking water pipes were common until the 1970s. The biggest coup of the US lead producers, however, was the rumour that lead would increase the quality of gas. The modern dumping of lead via private transport ended with the introduction of catalytic converters. Today, about 60% of the world's lead is used for car batteries and another 20% is processed in the chemical industry. The most significant source of lead today is the recycling of old lead products.
The most important lead ore is galena (lead sulphide PbS, galena). Other lead minerals are cerussite (lead(II) carbonate, PbCO3, also white lead ore), crocoite (lead(II) chromate, PbCrO4, also red lead ore) and anglesite (lead(II) sulphate, PbSO4, also lead vitriol). A total of 514 lead minerals are known to date.
Economically mineable reserves are estimated at 67 million tonnes worldwide. The largest deposits are in the People's Republic of China, the USA, Australia, Russia and Canada. In Europe, the largest deposits are in Sweden and Poland. In Germany, lead has been mined in many low mountain ranges: northern Eifel, Black Forest, Harz, Erzgebirge, lower Lahn, and Sauerland.