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Facts About Lead

Lead
Lead
Credit: Andrei Marincas | Shutterstock

Atomic Number: 82
Atomic Symbol: Pb
Atomic Weight: 207.2
Melting Point: 621.4 F (327.46 C)
Boiling Point: 3,180.2 F (1,749 C)

Word origin: The term lead comes from similar words in proto-germanic languages. The symbol Pb comes from its Latin name, plumbum.

Discovery: Lead has been in use for thousands of years for many industrial uses. Ancient chemists believed lead was associated with the planet Saturn and the oldest metal on Earth.

Properties of lead

Lead is a soft, very malleable and ductile element. It has a bluish-white coloring and a very bright luster. It is strongly resistant to corrosion and is sometimes alloyed with antimony to harden.

Natural lead has four stable isotopes. Twenty-seven other isotopes of lead are recognized.

Lead is a highly poisonous metal when inhaled or swallowed and long-term exposure can be harmful.

Sources of lead

Lead occurs very rarely in nature. It is most commonly found with galena (PbS) and extracted through a roasting process. It’s also found in anglesite, cerussite and minim.

Uses of lead

Lead’s resistance to corrosion and ease of use makes the element a common metal for industrial applications. Romans used the metal to make lead pipes, connecting iron pins for limestone blocks and several other applications. Historically, it has also been used as an additive in paint, in face whitening make-up, as a preservative for food and drink as well as pesticides.  However, lead is not used in much of these products any longer due to its highly toxic nature.

Lead is now commonly used in radiation shields around X-ray equipment and nuclear reactors, as a sound absorber and to absorb vibration. Lead oxide is used to create “crystal glass" and "flint glass" for achromatic lenses.

(Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

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