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What is Lead Nitrate?
Lead(II) nitrate is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula Pb(NO3)2. It commonly occurs as a colourless crystal or white powder and, unlike most other lead(II) salts, is soluble in water.
Known since the Middle Ages by the name plumbum dulce, the production of lead(II) nitrate from either metallic lead or lead oxide in nitric cid was small-scale, for direct use in making other lead compounds. In the nineteenth century lead(II) nitrate began to be produced commercially in Europe and the United States. Historically, the main use was as a raw material in the production of pigments for lead paints, but such paints have been superseded by less toxic paints based on titanium dioxide. Other industrial uses included heat stabilization in nylon and polyesters, and in coatings of photothermographic paper. Since around the year 2000, lead(II) nitrate has begun to be used in gold cyanidation.
Lead(II) nitrate is toxic and must be handled with care to prevent inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. Due to its hazardous nature, the limited applications of lead(II) nitrate are under constant scrutiny.
The crystal structure of solid lead(II) nitrate has been determined by neutron diffraction. The compound crystallizes in the cubic system with the lead atoms in a face-centred cubic system. Its space group is Pa3Z=4 (Bravais lattice notation), with each side of the cube with length 784 picometres.
The black dots represent the lead atoms, the white dots the nitrate groups 27 picometres above the plane of the lead atoms, and the blue dots the nitrate groups the same distance below this plane. In this configuration, every lead atom is bonded to twelve oxygen atoms (bond length: 281 pm). All N–O bond lengths are identical, at 127 picometres.
Research interest in the crystal structure of lead(II) nitrate was partly based on the possibility of free internal rotation of the nitrate groups within the crystal lattice at elevated temperatures, but this did not materialise.
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