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Sulfur Dioxide Health Effects – Unexpected Impacts On The Environment And Human

Have you wondered about sulfur dioxide health effects? Let's find out why it is a toxic gas for humans and the environment and how to prevent it by reading this article.

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Sulfur dioxide is a familiar gas in our life and science. It has many applications in industry and manufacturing operations. However, there are many sulfur dioxide health effects.

Poisoning by this gas threatens human health and leaves many serious sequelae. Not only that, but it can also have considerable consequences for the ecosystem if not strictly controlled. Before killing humans, it can destroy the fresh air for humans to breathe.

Environmental pollution is getting worse and worse. It is why people pay great attention to the management of harmful gasses such as SO₂. If you are still not clear about how does sulfur dioxide affect the atmosphere and how to limit this, do not skip the article below.

What is Sulfur Dioxide? 


Sulfur dioxide has the chemical formula SO₂. It is an inorganic chemical compound, colorless and heavier than air. SO₂ is produced by the combustion of sulfur gas. So, the most noticeable sign of this gas is the characteristic odor of sulfur.

SO₂ from industrial factories
SO₂ from industrial factories

Sulfur Dioxide Sources 

SO₂ is the most common pollutant (among the sulfur oxide sources) in industrial production and human activities. So, what is the main source for sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere? It is the emissions from thermal power centers, furnaces burning of coal, fuel, oil, and gas. 

Besides, some processes in the chemical and metallurgical industries also emit a significant amount of SO₂ into the atmosphere. The world annually consumes up to two billion tons of coal and nearly one billion tons of petroleum. 

When the sulfur content in the fuel is on average 1%, the amount of SO₂ released into the atmosphere is about 60 million tons/year.

What Is It Used For? 

People use sulfur dioxide in many manufacturing industries. First, it is an intermediate for the production of sulfuric acid and sulfuric acid. Besides, because of its good bleaching ability, this gas is often used as a raw material for bleaching paper, powder, or fabric.

SO₂ is also a good deodorizer. It is a common deodorant and preservative for many kinds of products. Jams and dried fruits often use it as a preservative to maintain the color of the fruit and prevent rotting.

In the treatment of industrial wastewater and urban wastewater, people use SO₂ gas to treat water containing chlorine. Besides, it is also used as an antibacterial and antioxidant in the winemaking process.

Air pollution due to toxic SO2
Air pollution due to toxic SO2

Sulfur Dioxide Health Effects 

Sulfur Dioxide Effects On Humans 

There are many sulfur dioxide effects on humans. Symptoms of SO₂ exposure will vary depending on the extent and duration of your exposure.

For a short period, SO₂ gas in dilute concentrations will not cause a life-threatening situation. Some of the most common symptoms of inhaling SO₂ gas are a burning sensation in the nose and throat. But, short-term exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide can still be dangerous to your health.

In addition, it can cause shortness of breath, altering the body’s ability to breathe or breathe deeply. SO₂ gas is especially dangerous for people with asthma because it impairs respiratory function.

Long-term exposure to SO₂ can cause changes in lung function and make illness conditions in people with heart disease. It is also the cause of pneumonia, respiratory infections, and eye inflammation.

Not only that, SO₂ gas in the blood can cause a lot of chemical reactions to reduce alkaline reserves, disrupt sugar and protein metabolism. It can lead to vitamin B and C deficiency. SO₂ can also originate blockages in blood vessels and reduce the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen.

Sulfur Dioxide Effects On Environment 

Not only harmful to human health, but the environmental effects of sulfur dioxide are also very serious. SO₂ gas and other compounds in the sulfur oxide group can react with other substances in the air to produce fine particles that impair visibility.

Currently, the situation of dense smog caused by harmful gasses in cities or urban areas is very common. It has affected people’s traffic control. The dense smog is also a sign that the air quality is dropping to an alarmingly low level.

At high concentrations, SO₂ is harmful to plants and trees by damaging leaves. It will prevent the growth of the plant. Because of sulfur oxides environmental effects, this toxic gas is seriously affecting the ecology of both humans and animals.

Sulfur dioxide is released into the atmosphere and combines with water vapor condenses in the air to form acid rain. It is the biggest concern of this toxic gas.

Acid rain destroys structures, bridges, and historic sites of stone or metal. In addition, it turns arable land into barren wastelands. These lands will often lose their ability to cultivate and create agricultural value.

The land is arid due to air pollution and acid rain
The land is arid due to air pollution and acid rain

How To Reduce The Amount Of Sulfur Dioxide Released Into The Air? 

In-home Source 

To minimize your potential exposure to SO₂ from indoor sources, you can take several precautions. First, you should not smoke or burn wood stoves or fireplaces in your home. It can not only lead to the risk of gas poisoning but can also result in fires and explosions in the home.

You should not leave the fuel engine of a motorbike or car running in the house. In addition, experts also recommend that people use gas appliances with electronic ignition to remove gaseous pollutants even at low levels.

If you have young children or the elderly in your home, using a ventilation fan or installing a gas detector is a great idea. It helps recirculate the air and keeps it fresh. 

What you should pay attention to if using ventilators is to keep the metal mesh filters on the exhaust fan clean to ensure it is always in good working condition.

In Power Plants

Power plants are often a source of more SO₂ gas than indoor sources. So many people wonder what steps have power plants taken to reduce the amount of sulfur oxides released into the air?

Absorption of sulfur dioxide by water is one of the simple methods to remove SO₂ in waste types of gasoline, especially in the gas of industrial furnaces. Some factories or incinerators also use the method of absorbing  SO₂ gas by limestone or calcined lime.

Industrial zones and factories must be spacious and far from residential areas. Also, people should plant many trees around to filter the air in these zones.

Besides, fuel incinerators should install standard emission detection and warning systems. Not only that, they must comply with state regulations on emission standards and ensure safety for the surrounding environment.

Acid rain destroys architecture and sculptures
Acid rain destroys architecture and sculptures

Final Words 

Environmental pollution is always a matter of concern for many people. The seriousness of sulfur dioxide health effects makes us aware that both our health and the environment around us are at stake.

This article has partly answered for you what is the largest source of sulfur dioxide air pollution? Not only that, but you also know more ways to reduce SO₂ in daily life.

With every small action, you are not only saving yourself but also your environment. Everything can bring good results if we don’t let it become too late.


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