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Sulfur — toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by

Sulfur is a nonmetal element characterized by its bright yellow color and distinct smell that resembles rotten eggs. An article posted on the Live Science website notes that sulfur is the 10th most abundant element in the universe. The bible refers to the hazardous compound as brimstone in ancient times.

List of known side effects

Sulfur is notorious for its detrimental effects on the respiratory tract. Exposure to the toxic chemical may trigger severe respiratory tract irritation, coughing, and shortness of breath. Likewise, people who inhale sulfur may experience allergic reactions or asthma-like symptoms characterized by wheezing and chest tightness.  An article posted on the Toxicology Data Network website also cautions that excessive sulfur exposure may cause tracheobronchitis, upper respiratory tract catarrh, and severe lung damage. Experts have stressed on the importance of using personal protective equipment to avoid sulfur inhalation.

Sulfur exposure may also lead to severe skin irritation characterized by redness, itching, and inflammation. The victims may also suffer from more serious skin conditions such as erythematous and eczematous lesions, skin ulceration, and contact dermatitis. Experts suggest that people exposed to the harmful chemical should immediately wash the skin area with plenty of water. Contaminated items such as shoes and clothes should either be discarded or washed thoroughly, the experts add.

Exposure to the hazardous compound is known to trigger adverse effects on eye health as well. Direct eye contact may result in severe eye irritation characterized by redness, pain, and blurred vision. Victims may also suffer from lacrimation, photophobia, conjunctivitis, and blepharoconjunctivitis. More serious eye conditions such as cataract, focal chorioretinitis, and damaged crystalline lens may also occur following sulfur exposure. Experts recommend washing the eyes for a few minutes to mitigate the risk of severe eye irritation.

Furthermore, sulfur is known to trigger the onset of reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and acute toxicity. The toxic chemical is also shown to impact environmental health as it is classified as a potent water pollutant that is harmful to aquatic ecosystems and animals.

Body systems affected by sulfur

Sulfur is particularly harmful to the respiratory system’s overall health. Likewise, the toxic substance is detrimental to both eye and skin health.

Items that can contain sulfur

An article posted on the Live Strong website notes that sulfur naturally occurs in both plant and animal products and can be found in a variety of food sources including allium vegetables — such as garlic, onions, leeks, and chives — eggs, poultry, and red meat as well as fish, nuts, and legumes.

Likewise, sulfur is also a staple ingredient in many skin care products such as commercial cream or ointment, mud packs, and cleansers as well as gels, lotions, and topical suspensions. Sulfur is also used in the production of fertilizers, batteries and cleaners.

How to avoid sulfur

Another Live Strong article cautions that some people may experience severe side effects following sulfur exposure. The entry suggests that people allergic to the chemical avoid taking sulfur or sulfa drugs, especially if they have a preexisting kidney disease. The article also recommends avoiding sulfur-containing products in people who currently use other acne treatments.

Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet published by the New Jersey Department of Health also suggests wearing personal protective equipment, protective clothing, and gloves to avoid direct skin contact. Likewise, the fact sheet endorses the use of protective goggles to prevent eye contact. The entry also suggests that work places install adequate ventilation and designate emergency eye wash areas and showers to help reduce the risk of contamination.

Where to learn more


Sulfur causes tracheobronchitis, upper respiratory tract catarrh, and severe lung damage.

Sulfur triggers the onset of respiratory tract irritation and asthma-like symptoms.

Sulfur exposure may lead to severe skin irritation, lesions and ulcers, and contact dermatitis.

Sulfur raises the odds of lacrimation, photophobia, conjunctivitis, and blepharoconjunctivitis.

Sulfur increases the risk of cataract, focal chorioretinitis, and damaged crystalline lens.

Sulfur causes reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and acute toxicity.

Sulfur is detrimental to the skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract.

Sources include: 1 2


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