Lead is a dense, relatively soft, malleable metal with low tensile strength. It is a poor conductor of electricity and heat. Lead has a face-centered cubic crystalline structure. It is below tin in Group 14 of the periodic table. Although lead has a lustrous silver-blue appearance when freshly cut, it darkens upon exposure to moist air because of the rapid formation of an oxide film; the film protects the metal from further oxidation or corrosion. All lead compounds are poisonous (see lead poisoning). Lead resists reaction with cold concentrated sulfuric acid but reacts slowly with hydrochloric acid and readily with nitric acid.
The element has four naturally occurring stable isotopes, three of which result from the decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements (thorium and uranium). Since this decay takes place at a constant rate, it is possible to predict either the maximum age of a lead-containing rock or its composition at some earlier date, as long as the rock has not been chemically altered. There are 25 known radioactive isotopes of lead, some of which occur naturally in small amounts.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.