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Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

Definition - What does Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) mean?

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a toxic, invisible gas with a strong, irritating, and rotten smell. It is a chemical compound of sulfur and oxygen.

SO2 is released by volcanic activity or human activities involving motor vehicles and industrial processes that contain sulfur, fuel oil, or coal. It can cause serious health issues for humans and animals alike.

Safeopedia explains Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

Sulfur dioxide is produced in the manufacturing of sulfuric acid by burning elemental sulfur, pyrite, and other sulfide ores. Sulfur dioxide is also used as a preservative for dried fruits to maintain the colorful appearance and prevent rotting. It is also sometimes used in molasses. Sulfur dioxide is used by the municipalities to treat chlorinated waste water.

Sulfur dioxide is a toxic gas that can seriously affect human health. It irritates the airways and causes coughing, wheezing, and tightness of chest. The victim feels the worst symptoms within 15 minutes after breathing it in. It is worse when the victim has asthma, sulfite sensitivity, or a sulfite allergy. It may also cause death in rare cases. Sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere can badly influence plant and animal life. Additionally, its emission causes acid rain.

National Standards for Criteria Air Pollutants in Australia aims to keep sulfur dioxide in outdoor air below the following measurements:

  • 0.20 ppm (parts per million) averaged over a one-hour period
  • 0.08 ppm averaged over a 24-hour period
  • 0.02 ppm averaged over a one-year period
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