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Q & A: sulfur

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Most recent answer: 05/20/2011
Q:
is sulphur a heavy metal? is it even a metal at all? if it's poison, then why? wut color is it? is it liquid or solid? just curious...........
- Anonymous (age 15)
jordan
A:
Sulfur isn't a metal. At room temperature it's a very lightly yellowish solid, often available in powder form.

It's not very toxic to people. [but see below] I use some in the garden to suppress some sort of fungus that causes leaf spots on cherry trees. I've also got some rather pure powder in the house, since it's useful in cleaning up mercury spills, e.g. from broken fluorescent bulbs. It reacts with traces of mercury that can be left on the floor. That helps keep the mercury from evaporating and getting breathed in.

Mike W.

(published on 11/24/2010)

Follow-Up #1: sulfur toxicity

Q:
If sulfur isn't poison, how can it kill water animals when it's in the rain like you said in an answer about conserving energy?
- Chris (age 15)
A:
Good point. Massive industrial releases of sulfur, largely in the form of sulfuric acid, gradually make bodies of water get more acidic. The living things that were adapted to the less acidic environment are then killed off. So certainly for them it's toxic. (BTW the ability of sulfur to acidify things is occasionally useful. To prepare my blueberry patch I applied sulfur to the ground, since blueberries like very acidic soil.)

Pure sulfur can also be toxic directly to people. My jar of it has various warnings about not breathing the powder, not getting it on your hands, etc. However, by the standards of a lot of the chemicals around in a modern industrial environment, including certain insecticides and such found around households, it's not particularly dangerous.

Mike W.




(published on 05/20/2011)

Follow-up on this answer.