Monday, May 2, 2011

Why some gases are Deadly Dangerous-SO2

The last post asked what we'd do if we had to make a choice between the environment and some of our life giving activities. It is a tough choice to make. At a certain point in time will we have to make that choice? Not if we modify our activities to benefit both - us and the environment.

To be able to do that we first need to understand what exactly human activities have been responsible for.
To date what we've done is, taken a resource from the earth, used it to make whatever's useful and ended the process there. We haven’t had to think about what by-product we’ve created.

All too often this has been a pollutant that poisons our air, waters and soil and damages our health.

2. This article tells us why certain gases like sulphur dioxide are deadly dangerous for our health. It helps us understand why these gases shouldn’t be the end product of our activities.

Google Free Image Courtesy

Sulphur dioxide, a chemical compound with the formula SO2, is a heavy, colourless, non-flammable gas with a pungent, irritating odour. Even though SO2 is very toxic to humans, it is extremely useful. It is used extensively in the preparation of sulphur compounds and solvents, as a disinfectant, a bleach, a refrigerant in the ice industry, for fumigation and as a preservative for beer, wine, dried fruits and meats.

How is it formed through human activity?

Industry: Coal- and oil-fired power plants, steel mills, refineries, pulp and paper mills, and nonferrous smelters are the largest releasers of SO2.
Transportation, Keeping Warm and Cooking: No burning process is ideal. All fossil fuels have contaminants. Since coal, oil and diesel often contain sulphur and nitrogen compounds, their combustion generate sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
Mining: Coal mining itself produces SO2. Coal contains pyrite, a sulphur compound; as water washes through mines, this compound forms a dilute acid, which is then washed into nearby rivers and streams.

Why Sulphur dioxide is toxic to life 

If we are exposed to 10ppm (parts per million) SO2 for about an hour, it
• irritates the nose and throat
• sometimes causes a choking sensation
• It also causes nasal discharge, sneezing, cough and increased mucus secretion
• In addition, sulphur compounds in the air contribute to decreased visibility.
• SO2 is also a primary contributor to acid rain, which causes acidification of lakes and streams and can damage trees, crops, historic buildings and statues.
• High concentrations of sulphur dioxide (SO2) affects breathing and may aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Sensitive populations include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children and the elderly.

In India, the levels in 5 years to 2014, were up by over 70%. Dangerous levels are 4 to 500 ppm and during Diwali, they go up to over 700 ppm in India

All images from here


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Some other gases that are harmful to humans. Click on each

Carbon Monoxide  

Carbon Dioxide  

Sulphur Dioxide  

Nitrogen Dioxide  

Acid Rain

Particulate Matter  

Ground Level Ozone and Odours

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