What Are the Hazards of Sulfur?

Updated April 17, 2017

Sulphur is a chemical element that is nonmetallic. It has a pale yellow colour and has no odour. Sulphur in gaseous form combines with oxygen to form sulphur oxide. Sulphur is used to make fertiliser and various types of disinfectant. It is also used in medical laboratories to test skin disease. Sulphur is, however, a hazardous element that should be handled with care.

Health Hazards

Sulphur in a gaseous state mixes with oxygen to form sulphur dioxide, which is hazardous. Inhalation of sulphur fumes causes irritation of the eyes, nose and respiratory track, which leads to headaches, dizziness and nausea. High levels of sulphur can burn the skin, and it can also cause pulmonary oedema, a condition in which the lungs are filled up with fluids. Inhaling sulphur may also cause coughing, sneezing or laboured breathing.

Fire Hazard

Fine dust of sulphur dispersed in the air is a potential hazard. When sulphur dust mixes with oxygen, it forms sulphur dioxide, which when ignited causes explosion. Dust suspended in air is readily ignited by fumes or static electricity and can cause destructive fires. Fires caused by sulphur are hard to put out because once they spread the presence of oxygen only serves to increase the fire.

Corrosive Hazard

Sulphur is stable and nonreactive when dry, but it is very reactive when it comes into contact with moisture. This makes it react readily with metals and many oxidising and reducing agents when in the presence of moisture. In the presence of moisture and oxygen, it becomes sulphur dioxide, which forms an acidic and corrosive solution and thus causes corroding of metals.

Environmental Hazard

When sulphur dust comes into contact with oxygen to become sulphur dioxide, it has serious environmental hazards. It affects the living organisms around the area. Sulphur causes vascular damage in veins of the brain, the heart and the kidney. Sulphur can also cause damage to the internal enzyme systems of animals.

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About the Author

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Loise Kinyanjui has been writing since 2009. She works as a features writer with Kitabu Publishers and has contributed news articles to various magazines and newspapers including "Weekly Citizen" and the "Kenyan Times." Kinyanjui holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature from Baraton University.