How dangerous is it to handle and store large lumps of lead?
November 30, 2018 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I find large lumps of lead when metal detecting and now I have quite a bit collected. How hazardous is it to handle?

When I metal detect, I sometimes find large (hamster-sized, for lack of a better comparison) hunks of heavy lead. I bring it home, wash it off, and I keep the collection in a bin in my basement.

Is this a health risk? I wash my hands after handling it, and I don't eat down there.

I like that it's cool and heavy and lumpy, but I will get rid of it if it's a Really Bad Idea to have it in the house.

Related: how should one dispose of large hunks of lead?
posted by amicamentis to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
you're fine. Don't lick it, wash your hands before eating and smoking. Wear a N95 particulate mask when cleaning up the dust.

If you are lucky, some of it is pre-1945 lead. which is quite valuable.

does your metro area have a household hazerdous waste facility? call them.

lead, just sitting there is not a big deal
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:16 PM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Don't melt it or cut it, and wash your hands after you handle it, and you should be fine. The problem is when you inhale lead or ingest lead, which isn't really a problem if you're washing your hands. Here's a safety pamphlet for people who work with lead.

You can recycle lead and your local scrap metal dealer may or may not pay you for it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:16 PM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's dangerous, but it really depends on how you're exposed to it (i.e breathing in lead dust), although I would say if you have children in the home at all, get rid of it. But don't trust me, trust OSHA. Here's their quickcard. This is their general information sheet on it, which will allow you to evaluate your own comfort with it.

Additionally: EPA on lead.

More and more studies have emerged that *any* amount of lead exposure can be dangerous, and we're been already exposed in small levels just to the sheer amount of lead in the air from leaded gasoline and other lead-loaded applications pre-safety standards, and the amount you've been exposed to depends on your age. So naturally that adds up over time, and that may be a consideration to your comfort with the risk.

I would also evaluate why/where you're finding this lead, and whether or not there might be environmental considerations that are dangerous if you are finding them in one specific area - you might be exposed to lead dust there and not be aware of it, which would be more dangerous than keeping the lead chunk in your home.

Now, I will say that as a geologist, I take lead safety extremely seriously. It's the one kind of rock I don't collect unless it is bound with another element, even though I know that it's mainly just ingesting and breathing it that causes problems and *technically* it would be "safe" due to my not really doing anything with it. Because a) I was born pre-1990, and b) lead exposure does add up over time, and it's a level of risk I'm not comfortable with because I don't know for certain what's in my pipes/paint, etc. due to living in an older house despite the legal standards, including disclosure law. You may feel differently or be in different circumstances.

And yes, it can be fairly easy to dispose of - call your municipality and they can direct you to either a hazardous waste program or possibly even recycling (on preview, as stated already).
posted by barchan at 2:43 PM on November 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you weren't in Pittsburgh, I'd say you should drop by my house and give it to me so that I can cast it into ingots.

However, if it is "low background" or "low-alpha" lead (pre-nuclear testing, and the older the better iirc), then it's at least $25/kg (or circa 2-3x the usual price for lead in your area, whatever that is) if you don't re-melt it. Also, in this case, remember where you found it as a potential purchaser may need to know so that they can guess their odds of it being usable before shelling out for expensive testing.
posted by aramaic at 4:09 PM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you're curious, the reason old lead is more valuable is that it has a lower background radiation than lead which has been processed more recently, because more recent lead has been processed in the presence of modern air, which is contaminated with radionucleotides due to nuclear weapons testing. It's used for shielding things like radiation detectors, which need a radiation-free environment to function properly. Very much a specialty product.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2018 [14 favorites]

While your local hazmat drop off may take it; any metal recycler will pay you for it even if it isn't really old.
posted by Mitheral at 1:00 PM on December 1, 2018

Thank you so much for your responses!!! It is most likely pre-1945 lead based on the items (bottles, etc) that I found in the same vicinity.

I'd given a box of it to a friend's dad who's really into historical reenactments and makes his own bullets but I never heard back whether he's done that yet or not.
posted by amicamentis at 1:43 PM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

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