sulfur dioxide

sulfur dioxide, chemical compound, SO2, a colorless gas with a pungent, suffocating odor. It is readily soluble in cold water, sparingly soluble in hot water, and soluble in alcohol, acetic acid, and sulfuric acid. It is corrosive to organic materials and dissolves in water to form sulfurous acid, H2SO3. Sulfur dioxide is used in bleaching and in chemical manufacture and as a refrigerant and a food preservative, e.g., for fumigating fruit. It may be produced by reaction of sulfur with oxygen, e.g., by burning sulfur in air, and it is often produced during the roasting of sulfide ores, e.g., in zinc smelting. Sulfur dioxide is a dangerous air pollutant because of its corrosive properties; it irritates the eyes, nose, and lungs. It is produced by combustion of coal, fuel oil, and gasoline, since these fuels contain sulfur. The sulfur content of a fuel can be reduced by refining, so that less sulfur dioxide is emitted when the fuel is burned.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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