Environmental improvement of lead refining: a case study of water footprint assessment in Jiangxi Province, China

  • Donglu Yang
  • Yongquan Yin
  • Xiaotian Ma
  • Ruirui Zhang
  • Yijie Zhai
  • Xiaoxu Shen
  • Jinglan HongEmail author



China is currently facing water scarcity due to its large national population and rapid economic development. Lead is a typical non-ferrous metal. The lead industry is one of the top 10 water-consuming industries in China and suffers from the heavy burden of properly managing discharged wastewater containing heavy metals and organic pollutants. Accordingly, a water footprint analysis of lead refining was conducted in this study to enhance the water management in China’s lead industry. This study is part 2 of the environmental improvement for lead-refining series.


In accordance with the ISO 14046 standard, life cycle assessment-based water footprint analysis was applied to a lead-refining enterprise in Jiangxi Province, China. Five midpoint (i.e., water scarcity, aquatic eutrophication, carcinogens, non-carcinogens, and freshwater ecotoxicity) and two endpoint (i.e., human health and ecosystem quality) indicators are utilized to assess the water footprint impact results.

Results and discussion

Direct pollutant emissions are a major contributor to ecosystem quality and freshwater ecotoxicity, whereas indirect processes (i.e., industrial hazardous waste landfill, transport, and chemicals) contribute considerably to human health, aquatic eutrophication, and carcinogen categories. Chromium, copper, arsenic, and zinc were the key substances in the lead production chain, and their emissions exerted a significant impact on human health and ecosystem quality.


Reducing direct copper emission was the most important key to minimizing ecosystem quality decline in China’s lead industry, and optimizing indirect processes was effective in mitigating the impact on human health. Enhancing wastewater treatment, increasing chemical consumption efficiency, optimizing transport and industrial hazardous waste disposal, improving supervision, issuing relevant governmental regulations, and adopting advanced wastewater treatment technologies are urgently needed to control the water footprint.


Direct pollutant emission Lead refining Life cycle assessment Water footprint Water resource 



We acknowledge financial support from the National Key Research and Development Program of China (Grant No. 2017YFF0206702; 2017YFF0211605), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71671105), Major Basic Research Projects of the Shandong Natural Science Foundation (ZR2018ZC2362), and the Fundamental Research Funds of Shandong University, China (2018JC049).

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1578_MOESM1_ESM.docx (251 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 250 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donglu Yang
    • 1
  • Yongquan Yin
    • 1
  • Xiaotian Ma
    • 1
  • Ruirui Zhang
    • 1
  • Yijie Zhai
    • 1
  • Xiaoxu Shen
    • 1
  • Jinglan Hong
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Shandong Provincial Key Laboratory of Water Pollution Control and Resource Reuse, School of Environmental Science and EngineeringShandong UniversityQingdaoPeople’s Republic of China

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