what is the impact of sulpher dioxide on earth?
Sulphur dioxide emissions, along with nitrogen oxides, combine with water in the atmosphere to form acidifying compounds. These are later deposited on the earth's surface and can cause acidification of soil and lakes. Many areas of Western Canada have alkaline soils that tend to neutralize "acid rain" effects. In sensitive wetlands, such as nutrient-poor bog areas in northern Alberta, nitrogen oxide emissions may cause the rapid growth of bog mosses, resulting in potential changes to the ecosystem.
Spike at the factory
Pollution in Australia comes from many different sources. Some is a result of industrial activity but there are also sources of pollution that are not industrial, like cars, woodheaters and even lawn mowers.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is tracking pollution right across Australia by collecting data about 93 different toxic substances emitted into the environment. The NPI can show you the source and location of these emissions.
The substances that are studied were chosen because of the problems they can potentially cause for our health and the health of the environment.
Sulfur dioxide is one of the substances that the NPI tracks across Australia. Here are some fascinating facts about sulfur dioxide and some hints on how you can help minimise any harmful effects of sulfur dioxide on our health and on the environment.
Sulfur dioxide can be dangerous and poisonous, and research has shown that it can be harmful to people, and the environment. However, it is found naturally in the environment and we use it in a wide variety of ways — from preserving yummy fresh fruit to cleaning our toilets with bleach!
Industries that carry out activities such as wood pulping, paper manufacturing, petroleum and metal refining and metal smelting, especially of ores containing sulfides, such as lead, silver and zinc, all emit sulfur dioxide into the air. Fossil fuel combustion, such as in coal-burning power plants, also emits sulfur dioxide.
Sulfur dioxide can occur naturally in the environment through geothermal activity, which is energy from the heat of the earth, such as hot springs and volcanoes. Sulfur dioxide is also produced when vegetation on land, in wetlands and in oceans decays or breaks down.
Sulfur dioxide may be present in exhaust fumes emitted into the atmosphere by cars, buses and trucks.
Wouldn't it be great if everyone walked or rode bicycles to get around? Just imagine how much less sulfur dioxide there would be in our atmosphere!
Common products containing sulfur dioxide include foods, such as dried fruit, preserved fruit, food preservatives, as well as wine, bleach, disinfectant and fumigants which are used to control pests.
Textile bleaching, wineries, and fumigation, where fruit growers and farmers spray their crops to keep insects away, are also sources of sulfur dioxide.
Spike monitoring pollution
Sulfur dioxide can have serious effects on our environment. It is absorbed by soils and plants, affecting our land and water ecosystems, and it can even be captured within and below clouds, which increases the chance of acid rain.
Even small amounts of sulfur dioxide can harm plants and trees and slow down their growth, so farmers have fewer crops to harvest.
People living in cities are exposed to low levels of sulfur dioxide every day. You can be exposed to sulfur dioxide in the following ways:
- Breathing polluted air.
- Living in, or near, industrial areas.
- Living in cities, near freeways and busy roads.
- Eating preserved foods and drinking wine.
- Working in workplaces where sulfur dioxide is used or produced, such as wineries, smelters and coal-burning power plants.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning that it is among a family of gases including water vapor, ozone, and nitrous oxide. Together, these gases make the Earth habitable, by increasing heat efficiency and keeping the temperature of the planet stable. The issue with carbon dioxide in particular is that there is currently more of it in the atmosphere than there should be, and it is starting to trap too much heat as a result. The extra heat trapped by the growing number of greenhouse gases is leading to a phenomenon called global warming.
Many things generate carbon dioxide naturally, including respiration, volcanic eruptions, and fires. In a natural cycle, much of this compound is taken up by trees, who use it for energy, producing oxygen as a byproduct. Carbon dioxide is actually a very important greenhouse gas, and an important part of the process that makes Earth so pleasant to live on. The amount being generated, however, started to outstrip the Earth's abilities to handle it in the 20th century. As a result, a steady rise in the atmospheric gas was observed, and scientists also began to link it with a slow creep in global temperatures. The difference of only a few degrees in annual average temperatures has the potential to be devastating, and many nations are beginning to be concerned about carbon dioxide.
Two things are contributing to the rise of carbon dioxide levels. The first is the generation of large amounts of the compound through the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline. Fossil fuels contain large amounts of carbon, which reacts with oxygen when burned. Since many industrial nations base their society on industries that rely heavily on fossil fuels, dangerously large amounts of the gas are being generated. The second issue is a decline in organisms, like trees and plankton, that would normally process this compound. This is also a problem caused by the activities of humans, which have led to widespread deforestation and ocean pollution.
Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere appear to be clearly linked with the rise in global temperature. The international dispute over global warming is not centered on whether or not it is happening, in most cases, but whether or not it is part of a natural cycle. People who do not believe in global warming suggest that global weather runs in cyclical patterns, and the global warming trend is a natural spike in global temperatures, despite the unprecedented rise in carbon dioxide levels. Scientists who have studied ancient climate models, however, argue that global warming is accelerating very rapidly, and far more dramatically, than past climate change. These scientists believe that global warming is being caused by humans, and that our growing emissions need to be checked before it is too late.
Chemical formula and description
The chemical formula for sulphur dioxide is SO2.
Sulphur dioxide is a colourless, soluble gas with a characteristic pungent smell, which forms sulphuric acid when combined with water.
Sulphur dioxide is produced mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels that contain sulphur, such as coal and oil (for example, coal being burnt in a home fireplace for heating and diesel-powered vehicles). Sulphur dioxide is also produced from some industrial processes, such as fertiliser manufacturing, aluminium smelting and steel making.
Natural sources of sulphur dioxide include geothermal activity.
Effects on health
Sulphur dioxide can cause respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, and it can irritate your nose, throat and lungs. It may cause coughing, wheezing, phlegm and asthma attacks. The effects are worse when you are exercising. Sulphur dioxide has also been linked to cardiovascular disease.
Group most sensitive to sulphur dioxide
Healthy children, adults with lung disease and asthmatics.
Standards and Guideline values to protect health
The national environmental standard for sulphur dioxide are 350 µg/m3 and 570 µg/m33 as a 1-hour average. The average concentrations of sulphur dioxide should not exceed the 350 µg/m3 standard more than nine times a year and should not exceed the 570 µg/m3 standard at all.
The national ambient air quality guideline for sulphur dioxide is 120 µg/m3 as a 24-hour average.
New Zealand’s ambient standards and guidelines are generally consistent with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. In October 2006, WHO released its first global air quality guidelines, which reduced the 24-hour average sulphur dioxide guideline from 120 µg/m3 to 20 µg/m3. The Ministry for the Environment is currently investigating whether the ambient air quality guideline should be reviewed in light of this change.
Effects on ecosystems
Sulphur dioxide can cause acid rain that seriously affects ecosystems. Acid rain is a major problem in the northern hemisphere, where trees and whole forests have been affected. Acid rain does not occur in New Zealand. However, sulphur dioxide deposition can affect vegetation around industrial discharges and in cities. Lichens are good bio-indicators of pollution and do not like to grow where there is sulphur dioxide in the air.
Effects on visibility
Sulphur dioxide can form secondary particles (sulphates) that cause haze and reduce visibility.
Usual levels in New Zealand
Sulphur dioxide levels in urban areas have decreased significantly since the 1970s and are generally well below New Zealand guideline levels. The guideline value was breached in Greymouth during monitoring in 1994, and there may be some local problems caused by sulphur dioxide discharge by industrial activities. For more information see the state of the environment report 2007.
Areas where sulphur dioxide may affect health and the environment
Sulphur dioxide can cause problems over a whole urban area or more locally around a single or several industrial discharges.