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Lead and Cadmium - Priorities for Action

Lead is a heavy metal that is toxic at very low exposure levels and has acute and chronic effects on human health. It is a multi-organ system toxicant that can cause neurological, cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, haematological and reproductive effects. It is released by various natural and anthropogenic sources into the atmosphere and into aquatic and terrestrial environments. Lead can move in the environment between water, air and soil, which may change the pattern of exposure. Lead is used and traded globally as a metal in various products e.g. batteries, different compounds, lead sheets, ammunition, alloys, cable sheathing and petrol additives.

Cadmium is a non-essential and toxic element for humans mainly affecting kidneys and the skeleton. It is also a carcinogen by inhalation. Cadmium is accumulated in bone and may serve as a source of exposure later in life. Cadmium is used as a pigment, a stabilizer for plastics and as a component of batteries. Cadmium is also widely distributed when it is present as a contaminant in fertilizers.

In the environment, Lead and Cadmium are toxic to plants, animals and micro-organisms. Lead and Cadmium are metals that are mainly transported over local, national or regional distances. The export of new and used products containing lead and cadmium, remains a challenge for developing countries and countries with economies in transition which lack the capacity to manage and dispose of the substances in products in an environmentally sound manner. Since 2001, UNEP has been mandated to address Lead and Cadmium issues.

Lead Paint Alliance

Lead Paint AllianceSince 2009 the Lead Paint Alliance aims to catalyze efforts to prevent children’s exposure to lead from paints and to minimize occupational exposures to lead paint. In June 2014, the first United Nations Environment Assembly renew the mandate of UNEP and WHO to build capacity on lead paint and to compile information on techniques for emission abatement and on the possibility of replacing lead and cadmium with less hazardous substances or techniques.

Pb and Cd Batteries

Pb and Cd Batteries UNEP, in cooperation with partners, promotes the environmentally sound management throughout the life-cycle of lead and cadmium batteries in ways that lead to minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment. UNEP is seeking to engage with potential partners to develop the technical and financial consortia needed to address this problem and deliver impacts on the ground.

Scientific Reviews, Techniques for Emissions, Reports, and Publications

Explore UNEP Resources on Lead and Cadmium

Reports and Publications

Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicules

Clean fuels and vehicules partnershipSince 2002 UNEP supports the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV), the leading global public-private initiative promoting cleaner fuels and vehicles in developing and transition countries, throughout its successful 10 years campaign to end the use of leaded petrol on a global scale.


Contact us

Lead and Cadmium activities
UNEP DTIE, Chemicals and Waste Branch
11-13, chemin des Anémones
CH-1219 Châtelaine, Geneva, Switzerland

Email: lead-cadmium.chemicals[at]
Email: noleadinpaint[at]