Galena, or lead sulfide, the world's major source of lead ore, occurs worldwide; and, it is mined in many countries, including the United States, Australia and China. Lead ore comes from underground mining operations, where the lead ore seams are blasted out of the ground and transported to the surface for refinement. Lead is commonly found in deposits with other minerals, such as silver, zinc or copper.
Once the lead ore is brought to the surface, it goes through a series of refining processes that separate out the different metals contained in the ore. For example, U.S. mines in Alaska and Missouri are zinc and lead operations. These mining operations are highly mechanized, because the work is so dangerous. The smelting operations themselves are also extremely dangerous, because lead is highly toxic. Remediation of the waste left behind by smelting operations and mines remains an issue worldwide, according to Worst Polluted.
Lead is one of the earliest metals exploited by man because of its low melting point and malleability. It has been used for centuries in pipes, cosmetics and paints. A heavy metal with lead toxicity, whether ingested or inhaled, effects every part of the human body. Since the late 20th century, the leading use for lead worldwide has been in the manufacturing of car batteries. As the world's demand for lead continues to grow, nearly one half of the world's newly-manufactured lead products come from lead that is recycled primarily from old car batteries.