Potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7) is a common inorganic chemical reagent, most commonly used as an oxidizing agent in various laboratory and industrial applications. As with all hexavalent chromium compounds, it is potentially harmful to health and must be handled and disposed of appropriately. It is a crystalline ionic solid with a very bright, red-orange color. It is also known as potassium bichromate; bichromate of potash; dipotassium dichromate; dichromic acid, dipotassium salt; chromic acid, dipotassium salt; and lopezite
Like other chromium(VI) compounds (chromium trioxide, sodium dichromate), potassium dichromate may be used to prepare "chromic acid", which can be used for cleaning glassware and etching materials.
It is used as an ingredient in cement in which it retards the setting of the mixture and improves its density and texture. This usage commonly causes contact dermatitis in construction workers.
The concentration of ethanol in a sample can be determined by back titration with acidified potassium dichromate. Reacting the sample with an excess of potassium dichromate, all ethanol is oxidized to acetic acid:
C2H5OH + [O] ? CH3COOH
The excess dichromate is determined by titration against sodium thiosulfate. Subtracting the amount of excess dichromate from the initial amount, gives the amount of ethanol present. Accuracy can be improved by calibrating the dichromate solution against a blank.
One major application for this reaction is in old police breathalyzer tests. When alcohol vapor makes contact with the yellow dichromate-coated crystals, the color changes from yellow to green. The degree of the color change is directly related to the level of alcohol in the suspect's breath.
It is used to tan leather which is used for footwear.
Potassium dichromate has important uses in photography and in photographic screen printing, where it is used as an oxidizing agent together with a strong mineral acid.
Gum bichromate printing was one of the very first stable photographic printing processes, dating back to about 1850. A solution of gum arabic and potassium dichromate, once applied to paper and dried, will harden when exposed to ultraviolet light.
Chromium intensification or Photochromos uses potassium dichromate together with equal parts of concentrated hydrochloric acid diluted down to approximately 10% v/v to treat weak and thin negatives of black and white photograph roll. This solution reconverts the elemental silver particles in the film to silver chloride. After thorough washing and exposure to actinic light, the film can be redeveloped to its end-point yielding a stronger negative which is able to produce a more satisfactory print.
A potassium dichromate solution in sulfuric acid can be used to produce a reversal negative (i.e., a positive transparency from a negative film). This is effected by developing a black and white film but allowing the development to proceed more or less to the end point. The development is then stopped by copious washing and the film then treated in the acid dichromate solution. This converts the silver metal to silver sulfate, a compound that is insensitive to light. After thorough washing and exposure to actinic light, the film is developed again allowing the previously unexposed silver halide to be reduced to silver metal.
The results obtained can be unpredictable, but sometimes excellent results are obtained producing images that would otherwise be unobtainable. This process can be coupled with solarisation so that the end product resembles a negative and is suitable for printing in the normal way.
CrVI compounds have the property of tanning animal proteins when exposed to strong light. This quality is used in photographic screen-printing.
In screen-printing a fine screen of bolting silk or similar material is stretched taut onto a frame similar to the way canvas is prepared before painting. A colloid sensitized with a dichromate is applied evenly to the taut screen. Once the dichromate mixture is dry, a full-size photographic negative is attached securely onto the surface of the screen, and the whole assembly exposed to strong light - typically about half an hour in bright sunlight - hardening the exposed colloid. When the negative is removed, the unexposed mixture on the screen can be washed off with warm water, leaving the hardened mixture intact, acting as a precise mask of the desired pattern, which can then be printed with the usual screen-printing process.
When dissolved in an approximately 35% nitric acid solution it is called Schwerter's solution and is used to test for the presence of various metals, notably for determination of silver purity. Pure silver will turn the solution bright red, sterling silver will turn it dark red, low grade coin silver (0.800 fine) will turn brown (largely due to the presence of copper which turns the solution brown) and even green for 0.500 silver.
Sulfur dioxide test
Potassium dichromate paper can be used to test for sulfur dioxide, as it turns distinctively from orange to green. This is typical of all redox reactions where hexavalent chromium is reduced to the less harmful trivalent chromium. Therefore, it is not a conclusive test for sulfur dioxide.
Potassium dichromate is used to stain certain types of wood by darkening the tannins in the wood. It produce deep, rich browns that cannot be achieved with modern color dyes. It is a particularly effective treatment on mahogany.
Potassium dichromate occurs naturally as the rare mineral lopezite. It has only been reported as vug fillings in the nitrate deposits of the Atacama desert of Chile and in the Bushveld igneous complex of South Africa.
Potassium dichromate is one of the most common causes of chromium dermatitis; chromium is highly likely to induce sensitization leading to dermatitis, especially of the hand and fore-arms, which is chronic and difficult to treat. Toxicological studies have further illustrated its highly toxic nature. With rabbits and rodents, concentrations as low as 14 mg/kg have shown a 50% fatality rate amongst test groups. Aquatic organisms are especially vulnerable if exposed, and hence responsible disposal according local environmental regulations is advised.
As with other CrVI compounds, potassium dichromate is carcinogenic and should be handled with gloves and appropriate health and safety protection. The compound is also corrosive and exposure may produce severe eye damage or blindness. Human exposure further encompasses impaired fertility, heritable genetic damage and harm to unborn children.