Hydrogen sulfide is a chemical compound often produced by breakdown of waste materials. Its compound formula is H2S, and it is toxic, flammable and colorless. The smell of flatulence and rotten eggs is also attributed to hydrogen sulfide.
Hydrogen sulfide has other names, some of which are archaic. Hydrogen sulfide is a pivotal compound in the sulfur cycle. Hydrogen sulfide has many uses such as for analytical chemistry (small-scale lab use, H2S was made for the Kipp generator through the reaction of ferrous sulfide with sulfuric acid); in thioorganic compound production (like ethanethiol, thioglycolic acid and methanethiol); in alkali metal sulfides (H2S converts to alkali hydrosulfides such as sodium sulfide and sodium hydrosulfide that are used in biopolymers' degradation); and also as metal sulfides' precursor (hydrogen sulfide is routinely used to active catalysts that are used during hydrodesulfurization, and it is also used to modify metallic catalysts' behavior in refineries).
H2S is also now used in separating deuterium oxide (e.g. normal water to heavy water) through the process called Girdler Sulfide.
Here are some ways that you can make or where you can find hydrogen sulfide.
- One way to get hydrogen sulfide is by letting hydrogen gas react with molten elemental sulfur at a temperature of 450 °C. Simply put, it is a separation of the sour gas that has high H2S content from natural gas.
- In a laboratory, the standard preparation is by slowly heating a strong acid with iron sulfide (FeS) in a Kipp generator.
- H2S can be found in sewers and swamps with the breakdown of sulfites and lack of oxygen.
- It can also be detected in gases from volcanoes, hot springs, well water, and natural gas.
- An uncanny procedure would also be by letting aluminum sulfide react with water.
- Bacterial breakdown of organic matter (human and animal wastes) also produces hydrogen sulfide.
- Industrial processes such as food processing, paper mills, coke ovens, and petroleum refineries always emit hydrogen sulfide.
As mentioned, hydrogen sulfide is a flammable and toxic gas. One has to be careful with exposure to this gas. Potential victims might not be aware that it is present, because while one can easily detect it due to its strong odor, it deadens the human sense of smell.
It can cause poisoning to different body organs, with the nervous system affected the most. Other minor effects would be cough and sore throat, problems in breathing, nausea, fluid forming in one's lungs, and eye irritation that can last for some weeks.
Just like any other chemical, one has to be careful in handling such a compound. While it may have other industrial and commercial uses, exposure of humans to high levels should always be prevented.