Thallium

Atomic Number:

81

Melting Point: 304 C
Atomic Symbol: Tl Boiling Point:  1473 C
Atomic Weight: 204.37 amu Density: 11850 kg/m 3
Atomic Radius:

170.4 pm

Oxidation States: 2
Covalent Radius: 148 pm Electron Configuration: [Xe]6s24f145d106p1
van der Waals Radius:

196 pm

State of Matter: solid

History

(Gr. thallos: a green shoot or twig) Thallium was discovered spectroscopically in 1861 by Crookes. The element was named after the beautiful green spectral line, which identified the element. The metal was isolated both by Crookes and by Lamy in 1862 at about the same time.

Properties

When freshly exposed to air, thallium exhibits a metallic luster, but soon develops a bluish-gray tinge, resembling lead in appearance. A heavy oxide builds up on thallium if left in air, and in the presence of water the hydride is formed. The metal is very soft and malleable. It can be cut with a knife. A mercury-thallium alloy, which forms a eutectic at 8.5% thallium, is reported to freeze at -60C, some 20 degrees below the freezing point of mercury.

Sources

Although the metal is reasonably abundant in the Earth's crust at a concentration estimated to be about 0.7 part per million, it exists mostly in association with potassium minerals in clays, soils, and granites and, thus, is not generally considered to be commercially recoverable from those forms.

Thallium occurs in crooksite, lorandite, and hutchinsonite. It is also present in pyrites and is recovered from the roasting of this ore in connection with the production of sulfuric acid. It is also obtained from the smelting of lead and zinc ores. Extraction is somewhat complex and depends on the source of the thallium. Manganese nodules, found on the ocean floor, contain thallium. In addition, several other thallium minerals containing 16% to 60% thallium, occur in nature as sulfide or selenide complexes with antimony, arsenic, copper, lead, and silver but are rare and have no commercial importance as sources of this element.

Uses

Thallium sulfate has been widely employed as a rodenticide and ant killer. It is odorless and tasteless, giving no warning of its presence. Its use, however, has been prohibited in the U.S. since 1975 as a household insecticide and rodenticide. The electrical conductivity of thallium sulfide changes with exposure to infrared light, and this compound is used in photocells. Thallium bromide-iodide crystals have been used as infrared optical materials. Thallium has been used, with sulfur or selenium and arsenic, to produce low melting glasses with become fluid between 125 and 150C. These glasses have properties at room temperatures similar to ordinary glasses and are said to be durable and insoluble in water. Thallium oxide has been used to produce glasses with a high index of refraction, and is used in the manufacture of photo cells. Thallium has been used in treating ringworm and other skin infections; however, its use has been limited because of the narrow margin between toxicity and therapeutic benefits.

It is also used in semiconductor materials for selenium rectifiers, in gamma radiation detection equipment.  Thallium is used as a high-density liquid used for sink-float separation of minerals. Radioactive thallium-201 is used for diagnostic purposes in nuclear medicine, particularly in stress tests used for risk stratification in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD).

In addition, research activity with thallium is ongoing to develop high-temperature superconducting materials for such applications as magnetic resonance imaging, storage of magnetic energy, magnetic propulsion, and electric power generation and transmission.

Isotopes

Thallium has 25 isotopes which have atomic masses that range from 184 to 210. Tl203 and Tl205 are the only stable isotopes and Tl204 is the most stable radioisotope with a half-life of 3.78 years.

Hazards

The element and its compounds are toxic and should be handled carefully. Amongst the distinctive effects of thallium poisoning are loss of hair, and damage to peripheral nerves. Contact of the metal with skin is dangerous, and when melting the metal adequate ventilation should be provided. Exposure to thallium (soluble compounds) - skin, as Tl, should not exceed 0.1 mg/m3 (8-hour time-weighted average - 40-hour work week). Thallium is suspected of carcinogenic potential for man.