Lead - Characteristics


Lead is a bright and silvery metal with a very slight shade of blue in a dry atmosphere. Upon contact with air, it begins to tarnish by forming a complex mixture of compounds depending on the conditions. The color of the compounds can vary. The tarnish layer can contain significant amounts of carbonates and hydroxycarbonates. It has a few characteristic properties: high density, softness, ductility and malleability, poor electrical conductivity compared to other metals, high resistance to corrosion, and ability to react with organic chemicals.

Various traces of other metals change its properties significantly: the addition of small amounts of antimony or copper increases hardness and improves the corrosion reflection from sulfuric acid for lead. A few other metals also improve only hardness and fight metal fatigue, such as cadmium, tin, or tellurium; metals like sodium or calcium also have this ability, but they weaken the chemical stability. Finally, zinc and bismuth simply impair the corrosion resistance (0.1% bismuth content is the industrial usage threshold). In return, lead impurities mostly worsen the quality of industrial materials, although there are exceptions: for example, small amounts of lead improve the ductility of steel.

Lead has only one common allotrope, which is face-centered cubic, with the lead–lead distance being 349 pm. At 327.5 °C (621.5 °F), lead melts; the melting point is above that of tin (232 °C, 449.5 °F), but significantly below that of germanium (938 °C, 1721 °F). The boiling point of lead is 1749 °C (3180 °F), which is below those of both tin (2602 °C, 4716 °F) and germanium (2833 °C, 5131 °F). Densities increase down the group: the Ge and Sn values (5.23 and 7.29 g•cm−3, respectively) are significantly below that of lead: 11.32 g•cm−3.

A lead atom has 82 electrons, having an electronic configuration of 4f145d106s26p2. In its compounds, lead (unlike the other group 14 elements) most commonly loses its two and not four outermost electrons, becoming lead(II) ions, Pb2+. Such unusual behavior is rationalized by considering the inert pair effect, which occurs because of the stabilization of the 6s-orbital due to relativistic effects, which are stronger closer to the bottom of the periodic table. Tin shows a weaker such effect: tin(II) is still a reducer.

The figures for electrode potential show that lead is only slightly easier to oxidize than hydrogen. Lead thus can dissolve in acids, but this is often impossible due to specific problems (such as the formation of insoluble salts). Powdered lead burns with a bluish-white flame. As with many metals, finely divided powdered lead exhibits pyrophoricity. Toxic fumes are released when lead is burned.

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