Why do manufacturers put lead in EVERYTHING?!?

Why is it that apparently almost everything contains lead? Almost all metal items appear to have lead... keys, tools, plumbing fittings... Also maybe in plastic.
What i'm most annoyed about (and why i asked this) is about lead in plumbing parts. If you go to a hardware store and get a metal plumbing fitting, it should say "Lead Free*" but then when you look at the details, it would say something like "The wetted surface of this product contains less than 0.25% of lead by weight". Basically you'd probably always find it saying "less than x%". But why can't it be ZERO? Maybe it's because their metals are always contaminated and they cannot make it 100% lead free?
Also, what about metal items like tools and keys? Why do they have to put lead in the metal? Does it make it easier to manufacture or something?

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This is a lack of understanding basic metallurgy. Keys, like what you use to open locks and start your car, are usually made out of brass. For the uninformed brass is what is known as an alloy. Alloys are combinations of different metals to create a new metal with properties of its alloying parents. Brass for example is an alloy of copper, lead, and zinc.

Most metals that we interact with are an alloy of some sort. Pure metals are extremely rare to find in your day to day experience. Copper plumbing fittings and pipe are not pure copper. Metals like lead, manganese, zinc, and magnesium are blended into the copper to give the final product more desirable characteristics. Lead is often used to increase the ductility (the ability to be rolled into sheets or wires, and other forms) of copper. Lead free copper alloys exist but are usually more difficult to work with.

Most folks today are overly paranoid of Lead. It's like most things. A little won't do much harm. But if you go out of your way to expose yourself to it, eventually you'll have a problem. My best advice: respect it like fire, acknowledge the risk, weigh the benefit, and make you decision. If you decide lead is absolutely not permitted in anything good luck to you in navigating the lead free maze.

Keep in mind lead in metals was introduced ages ago and for good reasons, like Kiteman already pointed out.
The "hype" about lead mainly started with our dental fillings and baby toys being with lead based paints.
Changing to lead free solder was a hard task for those who tried the right thing from the start - trust me, I was working in SMD sensor manufacturing when the "Lead Free" electronics started to appear on the market.

In our normal lives the levels of lead deemd to be safe in our products will no longer cause us harm.
This is not only due to the reduced amounts of lead being used but also by using using other ingredients that bind the lead much better so it can't escape into the enviroment like from normal old products.
Especially plumbing products still need to be soldered in some areas as the can't be manufactured in a single piece, sometimes this is only for parts that won't come into contact with the water fromt the tap anyway.
Although lead free solder is possible here too it also poses a problem that came from the same are when we started with lead free electronics.
The lead free solder, over time, will corrode certain alloys!
Especially if containing aluminium.
For electronics this was solved by adding other trace elements into the metals on the solder joints of SMD parts.
They basically act like a sacrificial anode in your hot water system or outboard engine.

You see, answering you questions is not that easy from view of someone producing parts.
But in most cases you will be saved from the harmful lead as the amounts that can make it into your body are next to zero with modern products.
As long as you are concious and check where it was produced and if the lead content is stated all should be good.
A lot of people are concerned about all sorts of things they get might have lead in it but totally forget about the old stuff around them for ages - like old paint on walls or soaked into timber, lead sheets for water proofing and of course the old fillings in your teeth ;)

"...like Kiteman already pointed out."

Did I? [scrolls] Nope, wasn't me. I'm not the only member with a very orange avatar...

Metal amalgam fillings contain mercury and silver IIRC, not lead ?

Correct but the mercury in them loves to bond to all sorts of other metals we might get into contact with.
Basically all lover level metals and some higher ones form an amalgamate with the mercury on contact, some of them are even more harmful the actual filling.
Just though I point that out as it was an issue back when I was young I dentists discovered that some kids lose their fillings much faster than others.
Turned out the kids loved to chew on toys containing lead in the paint....

I didn't realise that amalgam kept its affinity for more metal after it was initially bonded. Interesting. Thanks.

rickharris1 year ago

1. they don't

2. If there is any quantity of lead it MUStTbe under the levels deemed safe by international law

3. it must be declared

I most countries - UK included lead is banned in many products.

If you question is just a more general why is lead used then you have to be more specific about the product.

GAS (petrol) for example had lead added to reduce the likely hood of preignition.

This phrase, "the wetted surface of this product contains less than 0.25 percent of lead by weight", is some kind of legal boilerplate. My guess is that plumbing fitting makers who sell their wares in the Former US, are putting that warning on every fitting they make, even fittings whose formulation never had any lead in them in the first place, for fear that if they don't put those exact magical words on their pipe fittings, then they might end up as the defendant in a lawsuit against the government.

The FAQs on this page,


under the headings, "Lead free* products"--->"Why is there lead in brass products anyway?" said that brass pipe fittings actually used to have lead in them, for "to act as an alloying material and to prevent porosity and enhance machinability."

The FAQs did not mention pipe fittings made of other metals, like copper, steel, or stainless steel. I assume when you said "metal plumbing fitting" you meant all different kinds of metal alloys, I guess. I mean I guess that blurb I linked to sort of answers, "Why lead in brass alloys?", but not every other metal alloy under the sun.

By the way, do you have any idea what those magic words, "wetted surface of this product contains less than..." actually mean?

Do they mean like, wetted with water? Then what mass does the "by weight" refer to? I mean does it refer to the mass fraction of lead that diffused into the mass of water, on the surface, just by touching it?

It makes me wonder how to actually perform the test.

I'm still looking for a clear explanation of what the magic words actually mean. If you happen to find one, please reply, because I am somewhat curious about that.

Lead makes some alloys more malleable, more corrosion resistant or easy to machine, or less likely to corrode.

Lead in plumbing fittings is usually rendered inert by reacting with the water to form stable salts, unless the water itself is acidic.