Lead(II) acetate (Pb(CH3COO)2), also known as lead acetate, lead diacetate, plumbous acetate, sugar of lead, lead sugar, salt of Saturn, or Goulard's powder, is a white crystalline chemical compound with a slightly sweet taste. Like many other lead compounds, it is toxic. Lead acetate is soluble in water and glycerin. With water it forms the trihydrate, Pb(CH3COO)2·3H2O, a colourless or white efflorescent monoclinic crystalline substance.
|Systematic IUPAC name
Plumbous acetate, Salt of Saturn, Sugar of Lead, Lead diacetate
3D model (JSmol)
CompTox Dashboard (EPA)
|Molar mass||325.29 g/mol (anhydrous)|
|Appearance||White powder or colourless, efflorescent crystals|
|Density||3.25 g/cm3 (20 °C, anhydrous)|
2.55 g/cm3 (trihydrate)
1.69 g/cm3 (decahydrate)
|Melting point|| 280 °C (536 °F; 553 K) (anhydrous)|
75 °C (167 °F; 348 K)
(trihydrate) decomposes at ≥ 200 °C
22 °C (72 °F; 295 K)
19.8 g/100 mL (0 °C)
44.31 g/100 mL (20 °C)
69.5 g/100 mL (30 °C)
218.3 g/100 mL (50 °C)
|Solubility||Anhydrous and trihydrate are soluble in alcohol, glycerol|
|Solubility in methanol||Anhydrous:|
102.75 g/100 g (66.1 °C)
74.75 g/100 g (15 °C)
214.95 g/100 g (66.1 °C)
|Solubility in glycerol||Anhydrous:|
20 g/100 g (15 °C)
143 g/100 g (20 °C)
Refractive index (nD)
|Monoclinic (anhydrous, trihydrate)|
Std enthalpy of
|−960.9 kJ/mol (anhydrous)|
−1848.6 kJ/mol (trihydrate)
|Occupational safety and health (OHS/OSH):|
|Neurotoxic, probable human carcinogen|
|H360, H373, H410|
|P201, P273, P308+P313, P501|
|NFPA 704 (fire diamond)|
|Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):|
LD50 (median dose)
|400 mg/kg (mice, oral)|
LCLo (lowest published)
|300 mg/kg (dog, oral)|
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
(what is ?)
The substance is used as a reagent to make other lead compounds and as a fixative for some dyes. In low concentrations, it is the principal active ingredient in progressive types of hair colouring dyes. Lead(II) acetate is also used as a mordant in textile printing and dyeing, and as a drier in paints and varnishes. It was historically used as a sweetener and preservative in wines and in other foods and for cosmetics.
Pb(s) + H2O2(aq) + 2 H+(aq) → Pb2+(aq) + 2 H2O(l)
Pb2+(aq) + 2 CH3COO−(aq) → Pb(CH3COO)2(aq)
Cu(CH3COO)2 + Pb → Cu + Pb(CH3COO)2
The crystal structure of anhydrous lead(II) acetate has been described as coordination polymer. In comparison, lead(II) acetate trihydrate's structure is a 1D coordination polymer. In the trihydrate, the Pb2+ ion's coordination sphere consists of nine oxygen atoms belonging to three water molecules, two bidentate acetate groups and two bridging acetate groups. The coordination geometry at Pb is a monocapped square antiprism. The trihydrate thermally decomposes to a hemihydrate, Pb(OAc)2·½H2O, and to basic acetates such as Pb4O(OAc)6 and Pb2O(OAc)2.
|Degree of hydration||Pb coordination||Strongly bonded aggregation||Weakly bonded aggregation|
sheets stacked with
hydrophobic surfaces in contact
chains linked by hydrogen bonds
Like other lead(II) salts, lead(II) acetate has a sweet taste, which led to its historical use as a sugar substitute in both wines and foods. The ancient Romans, who had few sweeteners besides honey, would boil must (grape juice) in lead pots to produce a reduced sugar syrup called defrutum, concentrated again into sapa. This syrup was used to sweeten wine and to sweeten and preserve fruit. It is possible that lead(II) acetate or other lead compounds leaching into the syrup might have caused lead poisoning in those who consumed it. Lead acetate is no longer used in the production of sweeteners because of its recognized toxicity. Modern chemistry can easily detect it, which has almost completely stopped the illegal use that continued decades after its use as a sweetener was banned.
The earliest confirmed poisoning by lead acetate was that of Pope Clement II who died in October 1047. A toxicological examination of his remains conducted in the mid-20th century confirmed centuries-old rumors that he had been poisoned with lead sugar. It is not clear whether he was assassinated.
In 1787 painter and biographer Albert Christoph Dies swallowed, by accident, approximately 3/4 oz (20 g) of lead acetate. His recovery from this poison was slow and incomplete. He lived with illnesses until his death in 1822.
Although the use of lead(II) acetate as a sweetener was already illegal at that time, composer Ludwig van Beethoven may have died of lead poisoning caused by wines adulterated with lead acetate (see also Beethoven's liver).
In 1887, 38 hunting horses belonging to Captain William Hollwey Steeds were poisoned in their stables at Clonsilla House, Dublin, Ireland. At least ten of the hunters died. Captain Steeds, an 'extensive commission agent', had previously supplied the horses for the Bray and Greystones Coach. It transpired they had been fed a bran mash that had been sweetened with a toxic lead acetate.
Until recently, it was still used in the USA in men's hair colouring products like Grecian Formula. It was not until just a few years ago when the manufacturer removed lead acetate from the hair coloring product, and as of July 2018 the ingredients in Grecian Formula are water, isopropyl alcohol, triethanolamine, bismuth citrate, sodium thiosulfate, fragrance, and panthenol. Lead acetate has been replaced by bismuth citrate as the progressive colorant. Its use in cosmetics has been banned in Canada by Health Canada in 2005 (effective at the end of 2006) based on tests showing possible carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity, and it is also banned in the European Union and has been on the California Proposition 65 warning list as a carcinogen since 1988.
Lead(II) acetate solution was a commonly used folk remedy for sore nipples. In modern medicine, for a time, it was used as an astringent, in the form of Goulard's Extract, and it has also been used to treat poison ivy.
An aqueous solution of lead(II) acetate is the byproduct of a 1:1 ratio of hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar (acetic acid) used in the cleaning and maintenance of stainless steel firearm suppressors (silencers) and compensators. The solution is agitated by the bubbling action of the hydrogen peroxide, and the main reaction is the dissolution of lead deposits within the suppressor by the acetic acid, which forms lead acetate. Because of its high toxicity, this chemical solution must be appropriately disposed by a chemical processing facility or hazardous materials centre. Alternatively, the solution may be reacted with sulfuric acid to precipitate nearly insoluble lead(II) sulfate. The solid may then be removed by mechanical filtration and is safer to dispose of than aqueous lead acetate.
From the results achieved so far it is obvious that the purity law for lead in wines in the last two centuries was frequently ignored.
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