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Report on Impact of Historical Lead Mining Activities in England

Executive Summary

Lead is a resourceful metal and has been since the historical times but it affected the humans and influence and uptake of this element has increased due to its mobility in the environment and its use. Lead has been utilised in a number of useful products in the factories, but the waste of lead is released in water, rivers, streams and soil that results in lead poisoning. From the time of Romans in the 18th and 19th century lead have been poisoning lives of human, plants, and animals leading in severe consequences. Lead has been responsible for many of the environmental pollution over the years. 


This paper explains the identification in areas where historically high total lead concentration is present in mine wastes and soils. The assignment relates it to the past location of lead mining activity for evaluating the concentration of lead mining in mine wastes and soils in comparison to the location of former lead mining activities. It also evaluates the forms of minerals and chemical present in the wastes and soils. This paper also includes the discussion of health risk to local residents, plants, and terrestrial animals from lead and discusses the risks that are because of lead mining on the quality of the surface waters of streams and sediments.Get  assignment help by UK writers

Lead Mining

Lead Mining is famous from the times of Iron Age. Although, mining activities majorly were done during the time of Roman Era in England in the 17th and 18th century. Mining initiated in the late Iron age on the Mendip Hills. Charterhouse was also famous for small amount of Iron Age potteries. Still it was during the time of the Romans that first serious mining was done. The Roman mined during the six years after their arrival in England. In the dark ages, mining was on continuation but on a small scale. In the times of Edward I, in 1923, permission of mining at the Charterhouse to the Prior was granted. New activities of mining took place in 17th and 18th century.

During this time of 17th and 18th century, minor and constricted layers were worked on in deeper mines. In the 19th century, the technology of Cornish mining started for digging mines in the search of deposits of ore. Form the time of 1750– 1850 lead mining was turned into the big business converting Britain as the leading producer of lead in the world. In this same time, lead mining declined from going to the peak as the ore field was no more monetarily feasible and the area left was not capable of competing it with other areas of rich reserves around the globe. The last big mine was closed in the year 1999 named Millclose Mine and a stop to the last 2000 years of peak stage of mine history was finished (Turnbull, 2006).Get professional essay writing service UK

High Total Lead Concentration

Metals have been in use in the human history for a very long time, which had its own benefits, but numerous unsafe outcomes that affected the living. On the other hand, mining has always been associated with the increase in pollution of heavy and toxic materials, which are introduced in the aquatic, terrestrial, and atmospheric ecosystems (Passariello& Iavicoli, 2005). In the 19th century, Tamar Valley was famous for it being highly rich with minerals. Soils and pastures from this green valley have been considered as a place with high concentration of lead. In the early days researches showed that, people residents of this valley are exposed to a greater degree of lead as compared to other areas in England (Lovering, 2006).

Table 1: Examples of total metal concentrate output (tonnes) from selected mining areas in England and Wales (Hudson-Edwards& Dennis, 2008)

Ore field

Lead (Pb)

Northern Pennines- Yorkshire Dales 


Lake District




West Shropshire


Central Wales










Isle of Man



It has been found that contents of Lead (Pb), Zinc, cadmium, and Copper were found from the atomic absorption spectrometry after being extracted on heated and concentrated nitric acid. Mostly, lead, cadmium, and zinc were responsible for the contamination of soils as shown by the perspective block diagrams and isoline maps used. The diagrams displayed that severe contamination was at the side of the Mendip plateau in the locality of Shipham, Proddy and Wells districts (Davies& Ballinger, 2005). According to this research of Brain (2005) the area covered for the research was 600 Km of Avon and North Somerset with inclusion of the districts of Mendip lead and zinc. These areas still underlie from Devonian to recent age a number of various sediments. It was found out that from the year 1885 also, heavy metal were found out in the same area in North Somerset resulting in contamination, however, the Halkyn area have higher contamination issues than Mendip. For assistance buy coursework online

Mineral and Chemical Forms of Lead in Wastes and Soils

The physical and chemical structure of lead influences the impact and exposure lead has on the contamination of soil on PbB levels. Animal feeding data suggests that the bioavailability of lead chromate and lead sulphide is comparatively less than the bioavailability of lead salts of acetate and oxide. Exhausts of cars are responsible for these lead slats to enter the environment. The particles of lead salts are larger and drop down on the ground instantly polluting the soils and surface waters. In the same way, the smaller particles linger in the air and continue contaminating the atmosphere.

Lead is a key factor of lead acid battery that is utilized in car batteries. This lead acid is sometimes used in candle making procedures and ceramic glazes as projectiles (Hudson-Edwards& Dennis, 2008). Lead previously in the past years of England ended up in soils and wastes through the lead pipelines decay in transporting water in the systems and through paint corrosion that have lead in them. Soil function was disrupted by the intervention of lead near farms and highways specifically because extreme concentrations are present. Soil also bears lead poisoning because of this. Roman Era used the lead pipes as bearing in the purpose of drains after bath are still used in England. The leads included in these are solder and pewter (Assink& Brink, 2012).

In the preparation of some of the levels of gasoline, Tetraethyl lead (PbEt4) is used which is then spread out in the soils and wastage. Lead still now is recognized in as a minimum 1,272 out of the 1,682 hazardous waste sites that were included on the EPA National Priorities. The percentage of reporting bio accumulative toxins (PBT) especially lead was higher prior to 2001 than now. This proportion of lead being found in the soils and wastes is still high when steel, brass, or bronze alloys are used (Hamilton, 2006). Higher quality dissertation writing services

Health risks to local residents

Lead is a natural metal that is harmful for humans when inhaled or consumed specially children with ages under six. Lead has been a poison for human beings and specifically England from early days of England when it was known as the leading lead minor in the world. It has effected and had adverse impacts on human health and has harmful effects on the neurological growth of children. Lead has been in the use for many years in England and has been mined, refined and utilized in products as paints, gasoline, ceramics etc. Lead poisoning has been common also in the times of Romans when they used lead water pipes and containers made of earthenware and for wine storage.

 High levels of lead had been associated with harm to almost all the organs and organ system in the past but the most affected are the blood and kidneys, central nervous systems ending up at  death in extreme levels. Low levels indicate haeme synthesis and other affects on biochemical, neurobehavioral, and psychological processes with a wide range of other effects as well. Lead is known to accumulate in bones because of lead poisoning. This is diagnosed by identifying a blue line that starts to surround the gums showing an indication of lead poisoning. Lead is also harmful for pregnant females and in the development of the brain of foetuses and younger children. It also hinders in the digestion of Vitamin D and calcium. Psychological issues like learning problems, behavioural issues, and mental retardation can be a result of lead exposure. Lead at higher levels can also cause coma and convulsion ending up in death (Lovering, 2006).

Humans previously were also exposed to metals through air, water, and food. The toxic effects that lead left usually have long-term effects. A number of researches agree that at the greatest risk exposure are children and workers have verified it (Shilu Tong& Prapamonto, 2007). A recent research (Wuana& Okieimen, 2011) reports that even a minor amount for example 10 microgram can have harmful impact on the a child’s learning patters and conduct. Industrial sources lead to the contamination of the environment by smelting, manufacturing, and recycling from the cottage uses and wastage sites.

Health risk to terrestrial animals and plants

There had been an exploration of swan deaths due to lead poisoning in England. This had been determined from the process of correlating the blood-lead with the quantity of the lead that had been shot in the gizzards of those swans. There is a relation between the chronic lead poisoning and the conditions of starvation and weight loss. The birds in such conditions do tend to lose about 60% of their body weight. The birds usually lose their ability in flying or walking because of the advancement of muscle paralysis in their wings and legs. The primaries were dragging their tips when they were on the land, and their wings had been floating on the water, very loosely (Thomas& Chris D., 2004).

Studies conducted in the 19th century had shown that when the fall and early winter hunting season had passed, around 12% of the ducks had lead inside their gizzards. The lead pellets had generally disappeared from the gizzards of those ducks in around 20 days. This usually happened by the process of eroding or they passed out from their digestive tracts. This is not only about the bird dying on in that initial phase, those chronic effects from the lead poisoning could last a longer period. Now lead poisoning has been identified as a major factor in restricting the population of the loons in a few regions. This is because of the adverse effects on the breeding adults (Weisskopf, 2009).

There have been scientists in who have concluded in their research studies that in New England, the usual and distinctive characteristic that had caused the death in adult breeding common loans was the ingestion of fishing sinkers that had lead toxicity. There had been an average of 1.4 ppm ingested sinkers. This level had been present in the blood of the loons. This was considerably more than the range of 0.32 to 0.60 ppm of the level of lead in the blood that has been considered as symptomatic for lead poisoning in different species. The outcomes from the necropsies in the past researches had shown that there were eleven of the birds that had fishing sinkers inside their gizzards (Living With Environmental Change, 2013).

This had also been a resulting outcome that the lead poisoning was the main reason for approximately 6% of loon deaths. The study had been conducted on 222 common loon carcasses. These were provided to the National Wildlife Health Research Centre who presented the resulting outcome being 6% as mentioned. The study had also shown that two loons who had ingested lead jigs. However, these jigs were those weighted hook, which are used for fishing purposes. Common loons have been considered as an endangered species and a threatened one too, in some parts of England, even though the Federal Endangered Species Act has not listed this. Mute swans have also been found to be poisoned in England, which were at a specific site at river Trent that had been contaminated from lead sinkers (Living With Environmental Change, 2013).

Lead risk in quality of surface waters and sediments

The historical mining activity has had adverse effects on the biodiversity of a region. This has always been dependent on the levels of contamination present in a particular environment; also depend on the nature of the ecosystem. This is because there are some species, which have opposed towards the troubling anthropogenic conditions. On the other hand, some species would vanish from those specific contaminated areas. This does not only mean that a certain period would help the species in recovering fully from the effects of a particular contamination. In order to stop such an environmental factor, it would require an amount of time. However, this would affect negatively in the recovering of those species that have been existed before the mining activity (Aleksander-Kwaterczak et al., Journal of Soils and Sediments).

There has been a long history for the metal mining in England and Wales, which has effected in terms of polluted sediments in the rivers, lakes, estuaries, and the floodplain soils. There have been many important breaches made for the Environment Agency sediment quality guidelines for not just specifically lead, but also for cadmium, copper, arsenic, and zinc. This has directed towards the undesirable biological impacts that have damaged the ecosystem. This also includes the Water Framework Directive to be effected. The rivers that have been effected because of the abandonment of the metal mining include Newlands Beck, Swale, Tyne, Clywedog, Wye, Rheidol, Wear, Yeo, Fal, Ystwyth, Fowey, Glenridding Beck, Ouse, Tamar, Conwy, Axe and Afon Goch Dulas (Hudson-Edwards et al., 2008).

There have been sediments of heavy metals in a higher level in the Devon Great Consols Mine, during the Roman time. This mine is in Tavistock, in the east bank of River Tamar in the UK. This included the concentrated metal exploitation deposits.(Palumbo-Roe& B.& Klinck, 2007). In the 19th century, the discharging of metals had been greater in terms of active mining, but even now, there are major dissolved particles. The historical mining has left a high amount contaminated sediments and the problem that arises is that this is the reason for damaging the ecological system. The aquatic life could be affected more because of the process of re-suspension in such sediments. This also includes the contamination of the floodplain soils. Specifically zinc, cadmium, lead have been found to cause such damages. Their level of concentrations has affected the biodiversity in England. The re-suspension of these sediments is also caused by the change in climate and the floods, causing more contamination by the sediments to flow in the floodplain soils from the river channels. This automatically affects agriculture of a particular area (Hudson-Edwards et al., 2008).


The report analyses the history and presence of lead mining in the course of years in England. England has been famous for lead mining for years with increased issues because of lead mining as well. From the times of Romans in England, the use of lead in pipelines for drainage system has been common. This resulted in the increased difficulties in the living pattern of humans, plants, and animals as well. Humans have been affected by it for long and are still having physical and psychological problems because of lead exposure. The same case has been with animals and plants that have suffered with lead exposure.


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Davies, B.E.& Ballinger, R.C., 2005.Heavy metals in soils in north Somerset, England, with special reference to contamination from base metal mining in the Mendips.Environmental Geochemistry and Health,, 12.

Hamilton, E.I., 2006.Environmental variables in a holistic evaluation of land contaminated by historic mine wastes: a study of multi-element mine wastes in West Devon, England using arsenic as an element of potential concern to human health.The Science of the Total Environment, 249, p.171–22.

Hudson-Edwards, K.A..M.G..B.P.A.& Dennis, I.A., 2008.Assessment of Metal Mining-Contaminated River Sediments in England and Wales. Environment Agency.

Living With Environmental Change, 2013.Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Impacts. Report Card 2012 -13.

Lovering, T.G., 2006.Lead in the Environment.

Palumbo-Roe& B.& Klinck, B., 2007.Bioaccessibility of arsenic in mine waste-contaminated soils: A case study from an abandoned arsenic mine in SW England (UK).Journal of Environmental Science and Health Part A, 42(9), pp.1251-61.

Passariello, B..G.V..Q.S..B.M..C.S..F.G..C.G.& Iavicoli, I., 2005.Evaluation of the environmental contamination at an abandoned mining site.Microchemical Journal, 73, pp.245-50.

Shilu Tong, Y.E.v.S.& Prapamonto, T., 2007.Environmental lead exposure: a public health problem of global dimensions.Bulletin of the World Health Organization,, 8(9).

TThomas& Chris D., e.a., 2004.Extinction risk from climate change.Nature 427.6970, pp.145-148.

Turnbull, L., 2006.History of Lead Mining in the North East of England.

Weisskopf, M.G..e.a., 2009. A prospective study of bone lead concentration and death from all causes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer in the Department of Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study.Circulation, 120(12.), pp.1056-64.

Wuana, R.A.& Okieimen, F.E., 2011.Heavy Metals in Contaminated Soils: A Review of Sources, Chemistry, Risks and Best Available Strategies for Remediation.ISRN Ecology, 1.


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