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Lead (Pb) Lesson for Kids: Common Uses

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

When you think of lead, you might think of something heavy, but the material has been used in many ways over the centuries. Come learn about the ways lead is used today and why it's been banned for use in some things.

Lead Is an Element

Imagine it's a sunny morning and you can't wait to go fishing with your dad. You get out to the water and hope the fish are hungry as you attach the lure and weight, called a sinker, to your line and bait your hook. You cast your line out into the water and it makes a splash as the weighted lure sinks. Now, you just have to wait for a bite. And though you might not know it, you're using an element called lead to help you catch a fish!

Lead (pronounced LED) is a dense, heavy, soft, grayish-silver metal that is an element found on Earth. An element is a natural substance that can't be broken down into other, different substances. It's abbreviation on the table of elements is Pb.

Lead weight used on fishing lines
Lead weight used on fishing lines

That heavy fishing weight you used to sink your lure is made of lead. Throughout history, lead has been used in different ways but some ways aren't allowed anymore because people figured out lead is poisonous. Though most kinds can't be absorbed through your skin, lead can get into your body through your mouth or nose.

How Lead Was Used

People discovered lead in ancient times and have been using it in things ever since. Ancient Romans made lead pipes that carried water. They didn't know that it was poisonous and that the water flowing through the pipes could make people sick over time. Lead has no taste or smell and can't be seen in water.

The same kind of pipes were used in the US through the 1980s. Today, new pipes don't have lead in them and older lead ones are replaced when they're found. There are also filters that help take the lead out of water.

The walls in your house may have a few coats of paint on them and until the 1970s, lead was used in paint. It was also used in gasoline that was made for cars until it was banned in the US in 1996.

Lead paint can
Lead paint can

Once people figured out how dangerous lead was, especially for children, it stopped being used in dangerous ways. However, lead can still be found in fuel for race cars and in some kinds of gas that small, private planes need to fly.

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