Scrap Lead Analysis with XRF

Scrap lead analysis continues to advance technologically as the demand for recycled lead continues to rise. Of all non-ferrous metals, lead has the 2nd largest volume of recycling (second to copper) because of its corrosion resistance. Scrap lead has the ability to be recycled decades – or even centuries – after its initial production. New environmental regulations in most countries have vastly reduced dissipative uses for lead such as leaded gasoline, paint, stabilizers, pigments, ammunition, and solder. At present, nearly half of the total world lead production of 4.8 million tons is a product of scrap metal recycling. The past few years have seen the amount of recycled scrap lead increase, with economists predicting that the rate of scrap lead materials will increase dramatically in the future. Contact Bruker to discuss your scrap lead analysis needs today!

The major source of recycled scrap lead worldwide is lead acid batteries and their associated manufacturing plant scrap, representing over 90 percent of the contained lead available for scrap recycling. Scrap automotive batteries account for nearly 85 percent of the lead battery scrap materials. Other scrap lead materials include lead pipe and sheet, sheaths from power and telephone cables, anodes, weights (specifically truck and automobile wheel weights), printing metals, and dusts.

Two lead specifications prevail in the United States and much of the world: one with a minimum of 99.99 percent Pb grade (produced by primary lead companies) and the other with a minimum of 99.97 percent Pb grade (produced by recyclers). The primary difference in Pb grades is that pure lead companies remove the silver and bismuth in their refining process, while many recyclers do not. Other impurities in scrap lead include arsenic, antimony, copper, zinc, and tin. Of late, tellurium and selenium have been characterized as important impurities.

The lead industry, particularly lead recycling, must conform to increasingly stringent governmental and environmental regulations. As the major raw material of scrap recyclers, lead acid batteries have been declared a hazardous waste, domestically and abroad. Since acid batteries are the biggest source of scrap lead, they make up the majority of lead contamination in incinerators and landfills. Such nonconformance often has legal complications and requires fast testing techniques when time is of the essence. The Bruker S1 TITAN provides instantaneous elemental composition in scrap lead analysis!


Scrap Lead Contamination Analysis

An operating facility in Australia was given approval by its local council to undertake aluminum recycling and reprocessing activities. The facility soon commenced reprocessing lead scrap into lead debris for reuse despite the absence of development approval for the shift in activity from aluminum to lead. Subsequently, the local government served a notice of closure to the facility, referencing potential health risks due to the migration of lead dust from the operation. The facility objected to the closure notice, resulting in the case being brought before Land and Environment Court for judgment.

A mere 24 hours before court proceedings began, attorneys representing the local council determined that for the case against the operating facility to succeed, scientific data was paramount to provide conclusive evidence that the operation contributed to high lead concentrations in offsite soil. The council commissioned a consultant to perform a preliminary lead contaminated soil screening survey around the operating facility. Per law, the survey had to be complete within 24 hours, and the analytical results presented before the court at 9:00am the next day.

Since the sampling, analysis, and statement of evidence required a tight turnaround time, samples from sites adjacent to the operating facility were placed in plastic bags and tested for total lead using a field portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer. For test times, the lead analysis took a minimum of 20 seconds, with longer test times of two minutes performed for samples found with lower lead concentrations. The XRF data concluded that several areas around the operating facility contained surface soil lead levels well above legal limits. In fact, elevated soil lead levels were present up to ¼ mile from the boundary fence of the facility. The survey, based on lead analysis via XRF, concluded that the facility of interest was the source of soil lead contamination outside of legal limits.

The XRF evidence was presented to the operating facility’s attorneys and consultants before the court case commenced. The data was unchallenged by the operating facility, resulting in the case being settled out of court and the facility ceasing to process scrap lead related products and materials.

 Lead analysis with XRF provides analytical, accurate, real time data. In the case of the operating facility, representatives for the local government used XRF instruments to prepare a contamination report in less than 24 hours. The council provided formal scientific data in court with an unprecedentedly fast turnaround time, which otherwise would not have been available using traditional testing techniques, such as laboratory analysis. The XRF data was later compared to laboratory testing and demonstrated excellent correlation with these lab-based results, particularly around the site criteria. Real time data not only helps in court; XRF analysis shortcuts the testing process when time is of the essence regardless of the application from profiling contamination of a site to scrap lead recycling and quality control efforts. Contact Bruker for all of your scrap lead analysis  and lead contamination needs today!