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Lead

7/12/2012 3:14:52 PM | by Anonymous

Lead

A chemical element with an atomic number 82 and the symbol Pb in the Periodic Table, lead is a soft, poor malleable metal. It gets its periodic symbol of Pb from its Latin name “plumbum”. It does not usually occur in its purest form in nature but has to be extracted out from galena, a natural mineral, through a smelting process. It is considered as a heavy metal along with mercury. The original colour of lead is bluish-white when it is freshly extracted but it changes to dull grayish as it is exposed to air. Historically, lead had several applications that are still relevant today with lead being used in building construction, lead-acid batteries, weights and fusible alloys.

 

Lead can also be a poisonous substance at certain contact degrees to both humans and animals. If too highly concentrated lead substances are to make contact with or be consumed by humans, they could harm the body in several ways such as brain disorders, damage to the nervous system and blood disorders. The same can happen to other mammals as well if they are overly exposed to lead. In history, lead was sometimes even used as a poisoning element to punish offenders in places such as ancient Rome or Ancient Greece. Some chemical properties of lead can be that it has a high density yet it is soft, ductile and has poor electrical conductivity as compared to other metals. It is also has a high resistance against corrosion and has the ability to react with organic chemicals.

 

One key property that made lead useable even thousands of years ago is that it is extremely soft which makes it malleable with minimal amounts of heat, allowing metal smiths to manipulate its shape easily. Cultural artifacts that had been discovered recently from civilizations dating back thousands of years show lead forming a main component in them. Some examples can be in Roman plumbing. It was usually mixed with other metals to provide different properties to serve different purposes. Some example of artifacts that can be traced back thousands of years are cups and plates.

 

The uses of lead today are myriad. Its properties such as malleability and corrosion resistance make it an ideal choice for use in applications such as construction of soldering materials, bullets, radiation shields and paints. The fact that lead is toxic makes it dangerous to be used to make items such as drinking glasses and plates. However, past civilizations were ignorant of this fact thus many people ended up becoming sick as the effects of lead. Lead was used as an additive in glass; therefore it would be unsafe to drink from antique glass materials as they might contain traces of lead. Being a neurotoxin, lead attacks the brain and spinal cord. It has the ability to accumulate inside the human which can make an individual constantly exposed to it suffer from lead poisoning without even being aware of it.

 

Different types of metals can be added with lead to make alloys and change its properties according to requirements. Adding copper to lead can increase the hardness and improve lead’s ability to withstand corrosion from sulfuric acid. Other metals such as cadmium and tin can be added to lead to overcome the metal fatigue. Although some metals offer some advantages, they may also have some disadvantages when mixed with lead. For example sodium or calcium may be able to offer lead with the ability to over metal fatigue, but they weaken the chemical stability of the metal.

 

Using lead in various applications can be very useful in several industrial applications today. However, the workers should not be overly exposed to environments involving lead and should be provided the proper gear to work with it. It can be a very useful metal if applied properly.

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