Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
What is Alkyl-Lead?
Alkyl-lead compounds are man-made compounds in which a carbon atom of one or more organic molecules is bound to a lead atom. Tetraethyllead [TEL] and Tetramethyllead [TML] compounds are the most common alkyl-lead compounds. Alkyl-lead compounds are used as a fuel additive to reduce "knock" in combustion engines. They were banned from use in automobile fuels but are still in limited use today in the United States.
Why Are We Concerned About Alkyl- Lead?
In the body, alkyl-lead compounds are distributed through the blood to "soft tissues" particularly the liver, kidneys, muscles, and brain. Alkyl-lead is a predominant type of organic lead compound, and is much more bioavailable and toxic than inorganic lead. Exposures to humans can result in lead poisoning.
What Harmful Effects Can Alkyl- Lead Have On Us?
Initial symptoms of alkyl-lead poisoning include:
- nausea and vomiting
- mood shifts such as aggression or depression
- impairment of memory
In the case of acute alkyl-lead poisoning, possible health effects include:
- and in some cases even death.
How Are We Exposed To Alkyl- Lead?
Lead poisoning can result from the ingestion or inhalation of inorganic lead compounds emitted as exhaust through the combustion process (as a direct result of the use of alkyl-lead in gasoline).
Where Can Alkyl-lead Be Found?
Although the alkyl-lead problem in the U.S. has largely been solved, there are still some limited uses of alkyl-lead containing fuels that can lead to direct human exposure.
Potential sources to our Environment:
- piston driven aircraft gasoline
- auto racing gasoline
- recreational marine gasoline