Lead is a chemical element that is characterized as a base post-transition metal. Australia holds the world’s largest lead reserves, at some 37 million metric tons as of 2021, although China has the highest lead mine production worldwide. Prior to the recognition of lead’s toxicity in the late nineteenth century, lead was used in a variety of applications that it is no longer used for today due to health concerns. However, there are still many important end-uses for lead today, such as batteries, bullets, paints, alloys, and more.
Lead prices and trade
In spite of its potential health effects, lead continues to be a valuable commodity. Aside from decreased prices during the commodities slump of 2015, and another during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the price of lead generally sits at around 2,000 U.S. dollars per metric ton, or around 100 U.S. dollars per pound in the North American market. Returns on lead investments fluctuate each year, and were negative in 2018 and 2019 before becoming positive again in 2020 and 2021.
Like other metals, lead is recyclable. Not only does the secondary lead recycled from scrap reduce the necessity of mining new supplies of lead, it also ensures that scrap lead is less likely to cause negative health effects when it is discarded. In 2021, the United States produced 990,000 metric tons of secondary lead recycled from scrap, which was more than three times the lead that was produced from U.S. mines that year.
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