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Sulfur Part I:

Sulfur and Sulfur Compounds in the Environment


by
Mark J Donohue

Introduction
In my introductory report - Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: An Introduction I proposed that the
symptomatology of MCS has its root cause in the nervous system, specifically the limbic system
(amygdala, hypothalamus). This was followed by my report - The Hypothalamus & Human Nervous
System with a focus on the hypothalamus, a nuclei within the limbic system. My next report Neural
Sensitization and MCS was a review of the MCS medical literature which strongly implicated the
nervous system, specifically the limbic system, as the primarily organ system responsible for many of the
symptoms of MCS. Finally, in my report The Olfactory-Limbic System - I looked deeper into the limbic
system and its connection to olfaction and MCS.
Which leaves the obvious question what is causing the limbic system to dysfunction?
This report will focus on one possible cause of a dysfunctional limbic system improper metabolism and
detoxification of sulfur in the human body. Sulfur and sulfur compounds are ubiquitous and essential to
all life. Sulfur and sulfur compounds are found occurring in rocks, soil, ground water, ocean waters and
in the atmosphere. They are found occurring in fruits, vegetables and animal meats. Sulfur and sulfur
compounds not only occur naturally in both humans and nature, but as well as being a waste by-product
(pollution) of industry and other human activities (i.e. vehicle exhaust).
Regardless of the source, once in the human body sulfur and sulfur compounds must be metabolized
and detoxified properly. Poor metabolism and detoxification can occur due to a variety of reasons such
as: nutritional deficiencies, lack of appropriate enzymatic activity, heavy metal toxicity, viral or bacterial
infections and genetic defects. The inability of the body to properly metabolize and detoxify sulfur and
sulfur compounds results in the buildup of excitotoxic and neurotoxic compounds. The buildup of these
toxic compounds greatly affects the limbic system, thereby causing a variety of symptoms in not only
the nervous system, but the endocrine and immune systems as well.
Along with discussing the many aspects of sulfur and sulfur compounds, this report and the next report
will also be discussing chemical processes that take place in both the environment and the human body.
Therefore, my previous report Chemistry: A Primer should be used as a reference if need be.

Sulfur (S)

Characteristics of Sulfur
Non-metal
Atomic number 16
Atomic mass - 32.065
Number of isotopes 25 isotopes:
4 of which are stable isotopes (95% - 32 with 16 neutrons, the remaining
5% - 33 with 17 neutrons, 34 with 18 neutrons, 36 with 20 neutrons)

21 of which are unstable radioactive isotopes but are short lived (seconds
to days).

Sulfur is the tenth most abundant element in the universe. It is a pale yellow,
tasteless, odorless and brittle material that is non-toxic. Sulfur is solid at room
temperature, but melts easily at a temperature of only 239o - slightly above the
boiling point of water (212o). Sulfur does not dissolve in water (insoluble) and
forms stable compounds with all elements except the noble gases.
As compared with oxygen, which can form covalent bonds to one, two or exceptionally three other
atoms, the most striking feature of sulfur is its added ability to bond to four, five or six atoms.
Sulfur burns if heated and is referred to as brimstone in ancient literature fire and brimstone.
In nature sulfur can primarily be found occurring in three forms 1) elemental sulfur, 2) sulfides, and 3)
sulfates. Together these three forms of sulfur constitutes about 0.05 percent of the Earths crust. After
oxygen and silicon, sulfur is the most abundant constituent of minerals.

Natural Sources of Sulfur


Elemental sulfur is a natural component of the
environment found in soil nearly everywhere in the
world. There are geological areas where elemental sulfur
occurs as massive sedimentary deposits. Examples of
this occur in areas near hot springs and volcanic regions.
Significant deposits of elemental sulfur also exist in salt
domes along the coastal regions of Texas and Louisiana.
In areas of heavy deposits sulfur is extracted from the

ground using a process called the Frasch process. Because the boiling point of sulfur is low, the Frasch
process involves pumping down superheated steam down into the deposits, causing the sulfur to liquefy.
The liquefied or molten sulfur is then removed by pumping air down into the deposits, causing it to rise
to the surface. Once on the surface the molten sulfur once again solidifies. The Frasch process produces
sulfur of very high purity of 99%.
This process is used when naturally occurring large deposits of elemental sulfur are found. However,
most of the Earths sulfur is found in underground deposits tied up as rocks, common minerals and
salts or buried deep in the ocean in oceanic sediments.
Some materials containing sulfur with
their percentage content are:
Material

Wt. %

Earths crust
Soil
Coal
Oil
Natural Gas
Gypsum

0.052
0.01 - 0.05
1-14
0.1 14
0.1 40
18.6

Because sulfur is found naturally in the Earths soil it therefore is also found naturally in plants and
animals. Sulfur in the soil, usually in the form of sulfate, is taken up and assimilated by plants. The
sulfate (SO42-) is first taken up by the plants roots, then through a series of enzymatic processes the
plant reduces it to sulfite (SO32-), then to sulfide (S2-) and finally the sulfur is incorporated into an organic
sulfur compound. These organic sulfur compounds are usually proteins consisting of the sulfur amino
acids cysteine, and methionine. Animals or livestock obtain sulfur by simply ingesting plants.
Some foods containing sulfur with their percentage content are:
Food

Wt. %

Cabbage
Alfalfa

0.98
0.5

Oats
Barley
Apple
Beef
Egg Whites

0.41
0.30
0.45
0.1
1.6

In the atmosphere, sulfur can be found as part of a variety of sulfur compounds (i.e. sulfur dioxide,
hydrogen sulfide) that originate from natural processes. Hot springs and steam vents, such as those in
Yellowstone National Park are examples where emissions of sulfur compounds are found. Other
examples are volcanic vapors and sea spray which play an important role. Even microscopic bacteria and
phytoplankton (ocean waters) get into the act by releasing sulfur compounds such as dimethyl sulfide
(C2H6S) into the atmosphere.

Man-Made Sources of Sulfur


Sulfur is one of the few elements that occur naturally as a pure element (other examples - gold,
copper and carbon). However, as mentioned most of the Earths sulfur is found tied up or bound to
other elements. One example is metal ores containing sulfur which are known as sulfides and sulfates.
In these situations mining may take place to recover not only the sulfur, but more importantly the
valuable metals. Metal ores are minerals or an aggregate of minerals from which a valuable constituent,
usually a metal, can be profitably mined or extracted (i.e. pyrite iron sulfide). In the process of
removing the valuable metal, sulfur is also removed. This removal process takes place in processing
plants called smelters.

Sulfur is also found tied up in coal, petroleum and natural gas. These raw materials are valuable fuels for
powering and supplying energy to a countrys infrastructure. The burning of these substances takes
place on both an individual level (cars, lawnmowers, oil furnaces, etc.) and an industrial level (power
plants, refineries, smelters, etc.) which both result in the poisonous gas sulfur dioxide (SO2) being
released into the atmosphere. To reduce sulfur dioxide emissions a chemical process has been
developed to remove sulfur from petroleum and natural gas. This process called the Claus process uses a
technique called hydrodesulfuization (HDS).

HDS involves catalytic treatment (increases chemical rate) with hydrogen to convert the various sulfur
compounds present to hydrogen sulfide. The hydrogen sulfide is then separated and converted to
elemental sulfur. So much elemental sulfur is removed during this process that about 4,000,000 tons of
sulfur are recovered in the U.S. each year from natural gas, petroleum refinery gases and smelter gases.

Uses of Sulfur
Eighty-five percent of the elemental sulfur that is removed by HDS is used in the manufacture of sulfur
dioxide (SO2). The primary use of sulfur dioxide is in the production of the end product of sulfuric acid
(H2SO4), which is one of the chemical industries most important raw materials.
Another major use of elemental sulfur is in pesticides:
Currently, sulfur is registered by EPA for use as an insecticide, fungicide and rodenticide on
several hundred foods and feed crop, ornamental, turf and residential sites. Sulfur is applied in
dust, granular or liquid form, and is an active ingredient in nearly 300 registered pesticide
products.
Sulfur has been know and used as a pesticide since very early times and has been registered for
pesticide use in the U.S. since the 1920s. (EPA 1991)
Dusting sulfur, elemental sulfur in powdered form, is a
common fungicide for grapes, strawberry, many
vegetables and several other crops. It has a good
efficacy against a wide range of powdery mildew
diseases. In organic production, elemental sulfur is the
most important fungicide. It is the only fungicide used
in organically farmed apple production against the main
disease apple scab. It is also used against peach scab
and rot, peanut leaf spots, grape mildew, pecan leaf
curl, etc.
Smaller amounts of sulfur are used to vulcanize natural
rubbers (to treat rubber with heat and sulfur to harden
it and make it more durable). Sulfur is also used in the
manufacture of gunpowder, fireworks, matches,
detergents, corrosion-resistant concrete, and
photographic chemicals. In the world of personal care
products and medicines, sulfur is used in permanent
wave lotions, shampoos, skin care products, fungal
creams and in pharmaceuticals (i.e. sulfa drugs).

Sulfide (S2-)
Sulfide (S2-) is composed of a single sulfur atom (S) with two extra electrons in its valence shell. Making
sulfide an anion of sulfur with a negative two (2- ) charge. Sulfide is exceptionally basic and exists in
strongly alkaline aqueous solutions.

Natural Sources of Sulfides


Sulfide, however, does not exist in appreciable concentrations even in highly alkaline water. Rather, in
nature sulfide is found bonded to other elements (usually a metal or hydrogen ion) which are referred
to as sulfides or sulfide minerals.
Sulfide minerals are compounds containing a non-metallic sulfide anion (S2-) which is bonded to a
metallic cation (+).Though most sulfides are metallic there are couple of exceptions such as carbon and
phosphorus which are non-metallic. Most sulfide minerals form by means of precipitation in
hydrothermal fluids or other aqueous solutions. Sulfides can also be produced by reduction of sulfates
(SO42-).
Over 2,000 minerals have been identified, but about 20 of them are common and fewer than 10 account
for over 90% of the earths crust by mass. The most common minerals are compounds such as the
silicates, carbonates, oxides and the sulfides. There are different types of sulfides which are categorized
in the sulfide class. The sulfide class consists of the subclasses: simple sulfides, arsenides, antimonides,
tellurides selenides and sulfosalts.
Many sulfide minerals are economically important as metal ores. As mentioned above these sulfides will
be mined for both their sulfur content and their valuable metal content. Some common sulfides include:

Sulfide / Mineral Name

Silver sulfide / Argentite

Use

Major source of silver

Iron sulfide / Pyrite

Major source of Iron

Copper iron sulfide /


Chalcopyrite

Major source of Copper

Lead sulfide / Galena

Major source of Lead

Mercury sulfide /
Cinnabar

Major source of Mercury

Sulfate (SO42-)
Sulfate (SO42-) is composed of a central sulfur atom (S) surrounded by four
equivalent oxygen atoms (O) with two additional electrons in its valence
shell. This makes sulfate a fully oxidized polyatomic anion of sulfur with a
negative two (2- ) charge.

Natural Sources of Sulfates


Like sulfide, sulfate is found in nature bonded to other elements (usually a metal or hydrogen ion), and
are referred to as sulfates or sulfate minerals. Sulfates (SO42-) are salts of sulfuric acid (H2SO4) formed by
replacing one or both hydrogen ions with a metal or a radical (i.e. sodium sulfate - Na2SO4).
Sulfates commonly form in settings where highly saline waters slowly evaporate. Sulfates also occur
along side sulfides, forming by means of precipitation in hydrothermal fluids or other aqueous solutions.
And finally, sulfates can form due to the oxidation of sulfide minerals.
Sulfates are widely distributed in nature and are a part of naturally occurring minerals in some soil and
rock formations that contain groundwater. In these situations the sulfate minerals dissolve over time
(water soluble) and are released into groundwater. Therefore most drinking water supplies contain
traces of sulfates.
Sulfates, like sulfides, have their own category called the sulfate class. About 200 distinct kinds of
sulfate are recorded in mineralogical literature, but most of them are of rare and local occurrence. The
most common sulfates are used by manufacturers in a wide variety of products. Some of the more
common sulfates and their uses are:

Sulfate / Mineral Name

Strontium sulfate /
Celestine

Uses

Colorant in pyrotechnics and


ceramics

Barium sulfate /
Barite

Radiocontrast agent for


X-ray images, used in paint

Hydrated calcium sulfate /


Gypsum

Plaster of paris, cast, molds,


wall plaster, wall board,
cement

Copper sulfate /
Chalcanthite

Algaecide

Magnesium sulfate /
Epsomite

Therapeutic bath salts

Sulfates are also use in a variety of personal care products such as - toothpaste, hair curling products
and shampoo.
Because both soil and groundwater contain sulfates it is only natural that sulfate will be found in
vegetation. This will be covered in more detail in the next section.

Man-Made Sources of Sulfate


Sulfates not only occur naturally in minerals, soil, groundwater, sea spray and food, but sulfates are also
a by-product of many industrial emissions and therefore can be found in the atmosphere. This occurs
indirectly from the combustion of sulfur containing fuels, by industry and individuals, which generates
emissions of sulfur dioxide. Once sulfur dioxide (SO2) enters the atmosphere, it goes through a series of
conversions and is subsequently oxidized or converted to sulfate (SO42-).
Mining is another source of atmospheric sulfates. Mining causes physical disturbances resulting in the
exposure of large quantities of mineral sulfides to atmospheric oxygen. This exposure causes the sulfides
(S2-) to again become oxidized in to sulfate (SO42-).

In the atmosphere sulfate, an anion with a (2- ) charge will attract other cations (+) elements to become
electrochemically stable. Sulfate may bind with ammonium (NH4+), calcium (Ca 2+) or hydrogen (H+).
Sulfate, in the atmosphere occurs as microscopic particles and can serve as condensation nuclei for the
formation of ice crystals, which may settle from the atmosphere as rain or snow. If the sulfate is bonded
to hydrogen the precipitation will be acidic and therefore contributing to the phenomena of acid rain.

Sulfur Compounds
Along with sulfate there are numerous chemical compounds containing sulfur. Listed and described
below are several that are relevant to this report.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)


Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is composed of one sulfur atom (S) and two oxygen
atoms (O), making it an oxide. Sulfur dioxide, at room temperature is a
toxic, non-flammable, colorless gas that is heavier than air. It has a
strong pungent, irritating odor familiar to the smell of a just struck
match.

Natural Sources of Sulfur Dioxide


Sulfur dioxide is released into the atmosphere from a variety of natural sources. Some of these natural
sources are:

Geothermal activity hot springs and volcanic gases

Natural decay of vegetation on land, in


wetlands and oceans

Forest fires

Scientist estimate that natural sources release 80 to 290 million tons of sulfur dioxide into Earths
atmosphere annually. Volcanoes being the major natural source, for example: in 1991 Mt. Pinatubo in
the Philippines released between 15 and 30 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.

Man Made Sources of Sulfur Dioxide


Large emissions of sulfur dioxide are also associated with human activities. Sulfur dioxide is a primary air
pollutant (waste gas), released directly into the atmosphere resulting from the burning of sulfur and
sulfur compounds found in fossil fuels. Scientists estimate that humans contribute an additional 70 to
100 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the Earths atmosphere annually. The most common man-made
sources of sulfur dioxide emissions come from:

Power plants burning of coal accounts for over 60% of human sulfur dioxide emissions
Commercial-Institutional heating plants
Industrial boilers
Petroleum refining
Metal smelters - smelting of sulfide ores
Pulp mills - production of paper products

Cement factories heating of calcium sulfate


Textile plants - bleaching
Food processing plants - production of food
preservatives

Waste incineration plants


Homes burning fuel oil to heat homes
Vehicle Exhaust (gasoline, diesel)

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) originates either directly from the


combustions of fossil fuels or from the oxidation of
hydrogen sulfide (H2S) which is also a by-product of some
industries. Sulfur dioxide is readily removed from the
atmosphere being oxidized fairly readily to sulfur trioxide
(SO3), then into sulfuric acid (H2SO4), and then to sulfate.

Uses of Sulfur Dioxide


Sulfur dioxide is both a pollutant by-product of some industries and a manufactured product of other
industries (chemical). In chemical manufacturing sulfur dioxide can be liquefied under moderate
pressures at room temperatures. Therefore, sulfur dioxide is handled and transported as a colorless
liquefied compressed gas which easily dissolves in water.

The chief use of manufactured sulfur dioxide (SO2) is as feedstock for the preparation and production of
further sulfur compounds - sulfur trioxide (SO3), sulfites (S32-) and especially the end product of sulfuric
acid (H2SO4). However, sulfur dioxide is also used as an industrial reducing agent, a solvent disinfectant,
a refrigerant, a bleaching agent, and a fumigant.
After listing the above usages it might surprise one to learn that sulfur dioxide is also used as a food
preservative. Foods are either exposed to the gaseous form or are dipped in a liquid form of sulfur
dioxide. Foods such as dried fruit, vegetables, meats, wine and beer may undergo this form of food
preservation. Interestingly, sulfur dioxide is also used in the manufacturing of sulfites which too are food
preservatives. Together sulfur dioxide and sulfites are heavily used throughout the food and restaurant
industry as a preservative agent in foods.

Problems with Sulfur Dioxide


Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is chemically unstable; therefore when it enters the atmosphere it will react with
oxygen (O) to produce sulfur trioxide (SO3). Sulfur trioxide, which is extremely hygroscopic (absorbs
moisture), may then react with atmospheric water (H2O) to produce a mist of sulfuric acid (H2SO4). At
this point sulfuric acid may either fall to the ground as precipitation (acidic) or it may further react with
metal oxides, as part of dust particles, to form sulfates (SO42-) such as ammonium sulfates (also acidic).
Along with nitrogen, sulfuric acid and sulfates are all components of acid rain. Acid rain lowers the pH
(more acidic) of soil and freshwater bodies, sometimes resulting in substantial damage to the
environment and in the chemical weathering of statues and structures.

Sulfur Trioxide (SO3)


Sulfur trioxide (SO3) is composed of one sulfur atom (S) and three
oxygen atoms (O) making it another oxide. Sulfur trioxide, at room
temperature, is a very reactive colorless gas. It acts as an oxidizing
agent.
Sulfur trioxide (SO3) can be put directly into the air as a primary
pollutant, but it more commonly builds up as a secondary air
pollutant following the oxidation reactions of sulfur dioxide (SO2). Once sulfur trioxide forms it rapidly
combines with water droplets (H2O) in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4), which as
mentioned is a major component of acid rain.
Sulfur trioxide, like sulfur dioxide, is a by-product of industrial emissions as well as a manufactured
product. Sulfur trioxide is prepared commercially, as a colorless liquid, on a large scale by catalytic
oxidation of sulfur dioxide and converted to its end use of sulfuric acid.

Sulfurous Acid (H2SO3)


Sulfur forms about 16 oxygen-bearing acids. Of these acids,
sulfurous acid (H2SO3) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4) in particular
are of considerable importance to the chemical industry.
Sulfurous acid (H2SO3) is composed of a central sulfur atom (S)
surrounded by three equivalent oxygen atoms (O) with two of
the oxygen atoms bonded to a hydrogen atom (H).
Sulfurous acid (H2SO3) is formed when sulfur dioxide (SO2) is dissolved in water (H2O). The compound is
only known in aqueous solution or in the form of its salts and is not isolated in its pure state. The
dissociation or breaking up of sulfurous acid results in salts called sulfites (SO32-).
In chemical manufacturing sulfurous acid is produced as a clear colorless liquid with a pungent odor
similar to sulfur dioxide. Sulfurous acid is a weak acid and is used primarily as a chemical-reducing and
bleaching agent. It is also used as a disinfectant/antiseptic and has been used in skin lotions and nasal
and throat sprays.

Sulfuric acid (H2SO4)


Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is composed of a central sulfur atom (S)
surrounded by four equivalent oxygen atoms (O) with two of the
oxygen atoms bonded to a hydrogen atom (H). Sulfuric acid is a
colorless, odorless, extremely corrosive, oily liquid.
By now you know that sulfuric acid is formed by way of sulfur
dioxide (SO2) entering the atmosphere and becoming oxidized
to sulfur trioxide (SO3). Sulfur trioxide then reacts with
atmospheric moisture (H2O) and forms sulfuric acid (H2SO4). And as you also know, sulfuric acid is a
major component of acid rain and its many destructive features.
It should also be pointed out that acid rain may occur as any type of precipitation rain, freezing rain,
snow, sleet and hail. What is noteworthy is if the process of forming sulfuric acid takes place close to the
surface acid fog will form. Acid fog is capable of causing the same extreme environmental harm as acid
rain but more importantly it can be particularly dangerous to people because it is easily inhaled.

Use of Sulfuric Acid


While environmentalist, politicians and industry leaders battle over how to reduce the amount of
sulfuric acid that is formed in the atmosphere, the chemical industry, on the other hand is continually
increasing its production of sulfuric acid. This is because sulfuric acid is one of the most important
industrial raw materials produced by the chemical industry. Sulfuric acid production is the major end
product of sulfur and more sulfuric acid is produced in the United States every year than any other
chemical - nearly 40 million tons are used each year.
Sulfuric acid is used and enters into the manufacture of a wide range of substances, although it rarely
forms any part of the product that is sold to the consuming public. The principal use for sulfuric acid is in
the extraction of phosphate ores for the production of phosphate fertilizers as well as trisodium
phosphate for detergents.

Other applications of sulfuric acid include its use in:


Oil refining
Waste water processing
Metal/mineral extraction and purification
Lead-acid batteries

Pigments and dyes


Paint
Explosives
Pharmaceuticals

Sulfite (SO32-)
Sulfite (SO32-) is composed of one sulfur atom (S) bonded to
three oxygen atoms (O) with a negative two (2- ) charge.
This makes it another polyatomic anion of sulfur. Sulfites are the
salts of sulfurous acid (H2SO3), formed by replacing
one or both of the hydrogen atoms with a metal or a radical
(i.e. sodium sulfite - Na2SO3). In general, sulfites are moderately
strong reducing agents.
Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds that nature uses to prevent microbial growth. They are
found naturally on grapes, onions, garlic and many other plants.
Though sulfites can be found in nature, they too are manufactured on a large scale by the chemical
industry. Sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) dissolves fairly readily in water (H2O) to create a solution of sulfurous
acid (H2SO3). Sulfurous acid gives rise to two series of salts a normal sulfite ion (SO32-) and a hydrogen
sulfite ion (HSO3-).
Sulfites are heavily used by the food industry as a preservative. Sulfites are commonly found in wines (to
prevent spoilage and oxidation) dried fruits, dried potato products, jams, canned vegetables, soup mixes,
condiments, etc. etc. etc.. Sulfites are used in pharmaceuticals to maintain the stability and potency of
certain medications. And sulfites are used as a reducing agent for bleaching and to prevent rust.
There are several types of sulfites the most important of which is
sodium sulfite (Na2SO3). Sodium sulfite produced as a white crystalline
or powder is readily soluble in water. It is a strong reducing agent and
reacts with oxidants. It is primarily used in pulp
and paper industry. Though it also has uses in
water treatment as an oxygen scavenger agent,
in the photographic industry to protect
developer solutions from oxidation and in textile
industry as a bleaching agent. Sodium sulfite is
also extensively used for preserving foods as well.

Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)


Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) is composed of one sulfur atom (S) and two
hydrogen atoms (H). Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable,
extremely hazardous gas (more than sulfur dioxide) with a rotten egg
smell. Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than water and may travel along the
ground. Hydrogen sulfide is a very reactive reducing agent and a weak
acid.
Sulfur itself has essentially no scent. As for the rotten egg odor that is detected, it occurs when water
(H2O) mixes with sulfur (S) producing hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S). Although only small amounts of
hydrogen sulfide form this way, it is a powerful odor producer.
Danger Will Robinson - although the smell of hydrogen sulfide is very pungent at first, it quickly
deadens the sense of smell, so potential victims may be unaware of its presence until symptoms begin
or death occurs.

Natural Sources of Hydrogen Sulfide


Hydrogen Sulfide occurs frequently in nature and can be found occurring naturally in:

Crude petroleum
Natural gas - which can contain up to 28% hydrogen sulfide (this is why natural gas wells are
referred to as sour gas wells - offensive stench).
Volcanic and hot spring vapors.
Oceanic surface waters, where most of the marine metabolic turnover takes place.
Swamps, shallow lakes, ground water, deep wells, plumbing systems, water softeners and water
heaters. Hydrogen sulfide is produced in these areas by sulfur-reducing bacteria (uses sulfur as
an energy source) which break-down sulfur containing organic materials. The other common
factor with these areas is they are deficient in oxygen.
Mammals flatulence and waste.

Man-Made Sources of Hydrogen Sulfide


Hydrogen Sulfide, like the other sulfur compounds, is both a pollutant emitted into the air by industry
and a valuable raw material to be put to further use. Industries that are known to release the pollutant
hydrogen sulfide (usually along with sulfur dioxide) into the atmosphere are:

Petroleum and natural gas drilling and refining

Wastewater treatment plants

Paper/pulp mills.

Other sources of industrial hydrogen sulfide are Coke ovens (heating of coal) and Tanneries (leather).
Whether the source of hydrogen sulfide originates from man or nature, once in the atmosphere, it will
through a series of conversions slowly be oxidized to sulfate.
Large amounts of hydrogen sulfide are recovered, as a raw material, in the removal or separation of
sulfur from petroleum and natural gas during production. A substantial amount of this hydrogen sulfide
is converted to solid elemental sulfur. The remaining hydrogen sulfide is used extensively in chemical
laboratories as an analytical reagent (a pure chemical) usually as a liquid compressed gas.

The Sulfur Cycle Putting it all Together


Are you now confused? Is your head spinning? If so, its because the interaction between sulfur and the
sulfur compounds within the environment takes place as a cycle. A big cycle where no one component
works independently, theyre all connected in one form or another.
As an essential element, sulfur is constantly being converted, transformed and transported throughout
the environment. The movements follow certain well defined pathways which collectively link up into
one system in what scientist refer to as - the sulfur cycle. Below on the next page is a simplified
conceptual model of the sulfur cycle.
The next step is to see how this environmental sulfur cycle interacts with the human bodys own
naturally occurring, bio-chemical sulfur cycle. This will be the subject of the next report. Thats when
your head is really going to spin.

Image (below): Sulfur Cycle

References

Baird C., Environmental Chemistry 3rd Edition, W.H. Freeman Company, 2004
Meyer B., Sulfur, Energy and Environment, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, 1977
Nickless G., Inorganic Sulphur Chemistry, Elsevier Publishing Company, 1968
Nriagu O. J., Sulfur in the Environment, John Wiley and Sons, 1978
OSHA Fact Sheet Hydrogen Sulfide, U.S. Department of Labor, 2005
Pesticides and Toxic Substances, Registration Eligibility Document FACTS Sulfur, United States Environmental
Protection Agency, May 1991
Silberberg M.S., Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change, 2 nd Edition, The McGraw-Hill Companies
Inc. 2000
Silverthorn D.U., Human Physiology: An Integrated Approach, Pearson Education Inc., 2004
Tortora G., Introduction to the Human Body: The essentials of Anatomy and Physiology, Biological Sciences
Textbooks, 2010
World Wide Web:

Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Earthworks, Miscellaneous sites


The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, U.S. Department of Energy
Wilkes University, Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences
University of Arizona, Department of Atmospheric Sciences
Australian Government, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage & the Arts
Agency for Toxic Substances, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior