Hydrogen sulfide is used in the manufacture of pulp and paper (digesting agent), in tanneries and in sulfide ores. Most man made hydrogen sulfide is produced as a by-product of industry, rather than for industry.
Substance name: Hydrogen sulfide
CASR number: 7783-06-4
Molecular formula: H2S
Synonyms: Hydrogen sulphide; Hydrosulfuric acid; heptic acid; Stink Damp; Sulfureted Hydrogen; Sulfur Hydride; Sewer gas; sour gas; Sulferetted hydrogen
Melting Point: -85.4°C
Boiling Point: -60.3°C
Vapour Density: 1.189
Hydrogen sulfide is a colourless, flammable, poisonous gas that smells like rotten eggs. It is soluble in water and organic solvents and will corrode metals.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of hydrogen sulfide emissions in Australia.
Collapse, coma and death from respiratory failure may come within a few seconds after one or two inspirations, at high levels (concentrations of 1000 to 2000 parts per million). Concentrations of 100 to 200 parts per million for one to eight hours may cause sleeplessness, blurred vision, haemorrhage and death. Lower concentrations may irritate the eyes, nose and throat (5 to 50 parts per million). Following an exposure there may be headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Repeated exposures may cause headaches, anorexia, insomnia, paralysis, meningitis, psychic troubles, slowed heart rate, bronchitis and a grey-green line on the gums.
Entering the body
Hydrogen sulfide can enter the body when a person breathes air containing hydrogen sulfide. This is most common for people who work in areas of higher exposure or near to facilities where hydrogen sulfide are used or produced.
Workers in the industries that use or produce hydrogen sulfide are most at risk of exposure. Consumers can be exposed to hydrogen sulfide by exposure to air from production and processing facilities that use or produce hydrogen sulfide such as mining operations, chemical processing facilities, oil and gas extraction operations, electric power plants, pulp and paper mills, and other producers of to hydrogen sulfide.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standard for hydrogen sulfide through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants:
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 10 parts per million (14 mg/m3)
- Maximum short term exposure limit (STEL): 15 parts per million (21 mg/m3)
These standards are only appropriate for use in workplaces and are not limited to any specific industry or operation. Make sure you understand how to interpret the standards before you use them.
Drinking water guidelines
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines include the following guidelines for acceptable water quality:
- Maximum of 0.05 milligrams per litre of water for aesthetic considerations
Hydrogen sulfide has high acute (short-term) toxicity to aquatic life, birds, and animals. Insufficient data are available to evaluate the acute toxicity of hydrogen sulfide on plants on land. Insufficient data are available to evaluate the chronic toxicity of hydrogen sulfide to plants, birds or animals.
Entering the environment
Hydrogen sulfide will be in the atmosphere as a gas. It will be dispersed depending upon where the air currents carry it. It breaks down in the air in a few days.
Where it ends up
Hydrogen sulfide enters the environment from both natural and human processes. Almost all the releases are to the air, where it exists in the gas phase. In the air it will react with other chemicals to be broken down, it will usually be broken down in about three days.
No national guidelines.
Potential large emitters of hydrogen sulfide are electric power plants (burning coal or fuel oil containing sulfur), oil and gas extraction operations, oil refineries, pulp and paper mills, sewage treatment plants, large pig farms and other confined animal feeding operations, Portland cement kilns, municipal waste landfills, coke ovens, sulfur products and hydrogen sulfide production, asphalt production and storage and geothermal power plants. Most hydrogen sulfide releases are to the air.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
Other potential emitters of hydrogen sulfide are breweries, fertiliser producers, glue manufacturers, processing of ores (Lead, gold, and copper) and sugar beet and sugar cane processing.
Hydrogen sulfide is found in coal pits, volcanic gases, natural gas wells, sulfur springs, and decaying organic matter which contains sulfur.
Found in car exhaust.
It is not believed that there are any consumer products that contain hydrogen sulfide. Some consumer products may release hydrogen sulfide, such as septic tanks and the burning of coal or oil.
Sources used in preparing this information
- Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) (1992), Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters.
- CalEPA Air Resources Board Toxic Air Contaminant Summary Hydrogen sulfide (accessed, May, 1999)
- ChemFinder WebServer Project (1995), Hydrogen sulfide (accessed, May, 1999)
- Environmental Chemicals Data and Information Network (ECDIN) (date of update not given) Hydrogen sulfide (accessed, May, 1999)
- Environmental Defense Fund (1998), Hydrogen sulfide: The Chemical Scorecard: (accessed, May, 1999)
- Meagher, D (1991), The Macmillan Dictionary of The Australian Environment, Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd.
- Messer MG Industries (1997), Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) Hydrogen sulfide (accessed, May, 1999)
- NTP Chemical Repository, Radian Corporation, Hydrogen sulfide (AUGUST 29, 1991) (accessed, May, 1999)
- Richardson, M (1992), Dictionary of Substances and their Effects, Royal Society of Chemistry, Clays Ltd, England.
- Sittig, M (1991), Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens, 3rd edition, Noyes Publications, USA.
- Technical Advisory Panel (1999), Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- US Department of Health and Human Services (1990), NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, Publication No. 90-117.
- Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, accessed November 2018.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated October 2017, accessed May 2018