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 Sulphur in its natural state is an odourless, solid, yellowish and flammable organic substance.1 During combustion, sulphur reacts with oxygen to form sulphur oxides. In the atmosphere, sulphur oxides are further oxidized to form sulphuric acid.2


Sulphur is used in the production of sulphuric acid, which is an important intermediate in many processes in chemical and manufacturing industry. Sulphuric acid is used in the fertilizer industry to produce phosphate, nitrogen, potassium and sulphate fertilizer. It is also used in production of several other products, such as non-metals, pigments, fibres, hydrofluoric acid, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, hygienic products, cosmetics, rubber vulcanizing, water treatment and steel pickling.3

Sources and transportation pathways

Sulphur oxides are emitted to the atmosphere both from natural and anthropogenic sources. The largest natural source on a global scale is volcanic activity.4 Emissions of SO2 from anthropogenic sources occur during combustion of sulphur-containing fuels (for example coal and fuel oil), and during industrial processes using sulphur-containing raw materials and additives.5 The single largest anthropogenic source of sulphur oxide in Sweden is the industry (for example pulp and metal industry). The second largest source is the production of electricity and district heating.6

on environment and health

Sulphur dioxide has an acidifying effect on the environment. Acidification is harmful for plants and animals, both on land and in water.7 When the soil turns acidic, vital nutrients are leached from the soil, which eventually may result in reduced forest growth. Furthermore, metals in the soil are released that can harm decomposing organisms in the soil as well as birds and mammals higher up the food chain, including humans.8

Sulphur accumulates in the environment and can cause long-term effects on organs and the nervous system.9 Sulphur dioxide may affect the respiratory tract and lung function, as well as cause eye irritation. Hospital visits as a result of heart disease as well as the number of deaths increase on days with higher SO2 concentrations in the air.10

International agreements and regulations

Sulphur as sulphur oxides are regulated by the UN Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as by the EU National Emissions Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC), the EU Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC) and the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU). The UN Protocol on PRTRs and the EU E-PRTR regulation regulate how data on emissions of sulphur oxides is made available.