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Sulphur Sulfur (in USA)

Jupiter's moon Io owes its colours to various forms of sulphur. A dark area near the crater Aristarchus on the moon may be a sulphur deposit.

The History Says

Sulphur was used by pagan priests 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. The Romans used sulphur or fumes from its combustion as an insecticide and to purify a sick room and cleanse its air of evil (Cunningham 1935). The same uses were reported by Homer in the Odyssey in 1000 B.C. Armed with the knowledge of gunpowder, Europeans demanded increasing quantities of sulphur, beginning in the 12th century.

The Present Scenario

Sulphur is found in meteorites, volcanoes, hot springs, and as galena, gypsum, Epsom salts, and barite. It is recovered commercially from "salt domes" along the Gulf Coast of the USA.

Sulfur, which is given a bad reputation because of its odor, can make a very beautiful mineral specimen, and fine quality examples are much sought after. The unmistakable deep yellow color is not matched by any other mineral and the nicely shaped crystal forms of sulfur add to its attractiveness. As for the odor, this occurs when water mixes with the sulfur and a small amount of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas is produced. Although only small amounts of H2S form from just moisture in the air, it is a powerful odor producer and is the dominating contributor to the odor of rotten eggs. Rest assured, though, that most specimens of sulfur, when kept dry, do not emit a strong odor and this is not difficult for collectors of fine sulfur specimens to ensure.

Although sulphur is in the same group in the periodic table as oxygen, there are more differences in the chemical characteristics of these elements than there are similarities. Thus, while oxygen always displays a valency of two, sulphur displays valences of four (in sulphur dioxide, SO2), six (in thionyl chloride, socl2) and eight (in sulphur hexafluoride, SF8).

In the elemental state, sulphur exists in polymeric forms.

Sulphur is an essential element for living organisms, and is present in some amino-acids.

Hardness Associated Minerals Best Field Indicators Streak Colour Varieties Luster Tenacity
1½ - 2½ Celestite
color, odor, heat sensitivity, lack of good cleavage and crystal habit. Yellow Lemon yellow Selenian Sulphur Resinous Greasy Brittle

Found in following forms

Sulphide pyrite
Marcasite (white pyrite)
Pyrrhotite FenSn+1
Cinnabar Hgs
Galena PbS
Sphalerite ZnS
Chalcopyrite CuFeS4
Chalcocite Cu2S
Covellite CuS
Bornite Cu5FeS4
Sulphate -
Gypsum CaSO4.2H2O
Anhydrite CaSO4
Barytes BaSO4
Celestite SrSO4
And other sulphide and sulphate minerals

Physical Characteristics


In 1985, twenty-one countries (all European except Canada) signed the "Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on the Reduction of Sulphur Emissions or their Transboundary Fluxes by at Least 30 Per Cent." It aims to reduce annual sulphur emissions -- the main cause of acid rain -- by at least 30 per cent in the year 1993. Since then, a new treaty is currently in the process of negotiation. The most important issue on the negotiating table is the inclusion of East European countries and the most effective method for inclusion. Should Western European sponsors of the original treaty assist its neighbors in acquiring expensive power scrubbers, provided by Western business? The balance between domestic business interests, Germany's $40 billion pollution-control industry, and international environmental interests are crucial factors guiding the negotiations.

Notable Occurrences

Michigan and Ohio, USA

Sulphur deposition

The deposition of sulphur has decreased significantly over recent years and is predicted to decrease further by 2010. This reflects a 71% decrease in sulphur dioxide emissions from 1987 to 2001, which led to 74% less dry deposition and 44.5% less wet deposition. These reductions reflect investments in flue gas desulphurisation technology and alternative fuel sources at power stations. Reductions in emissions of transboundary air pollutants are agreed at International level.

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