The many uses of sulfur


Sulfur is a nonmetallic, abundant chemical element found in crystalline or amorphous form. It is yellow in color, burns with a blue flame and a suffocating odor. It is an essential element in all living things and is in the organic molecules of all fossil fuels.

When fossil fuels are burned, sulfur dioxide gas is produced. In fossil-fueled power plants, this results in the production of an atmospheric pollutant that is a lung irritant, and the primary cause of destructive acid rain.

In the Bible, sulfur is known as “brimstone.” In ancient times, it was used for a variety of purposes. It is the 10th most abundant element in nature, and the 11th most abundant element in the human body. For example, it is a component of most proteins in the form of certain amino acids.

Sulfur occurs frequently in nature, usually as a stinky, yellow mineral associated with hot springs and volcanoes. This may explain why the authors of the Bible associated it with hellfire and wrath. Pure sulfur has no smell. The bad odor associated with the element comes from many of its compounds. For example, the rotten egg smell is due to hydrogen sulfide. The defensive odor of skunks is due to sulfur compounds called mercaptans.

Sulfur can kill insects, mites, fungi and rodents. Since the 1920s, it has been registered in the U.S. for use in pesticide products. Sulfur dioxide was used to fumigate homes from ancient times, a practice which continued well into the 19th Century.

Sulfur is also used to produce sulfuric acid which goes into fertilizers, batteries, and cleaners. It has been used commercially in metallurgy, rubber vulcanization, petroleum refining, and many other industrial processes.

Medically, sulfur has been used in the treatment of gout, rheumatism, bronchitis, and as a mild laxative. The sulfonamides, or sulfa drugs, are used in the treatment of various bacterial infections, and were very popular before the introduction of antibiotics.


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