Smarter Living: Chemical Index

Sulfur dioxide, emitted by coal-fired power plants into the air, contributes to the formation of acid rain which has harmed aquatic ecosystems, and to increased respiratory illness, particularly in children and the elderly.

Health Concerns

Sulfur dioxide contributes to respiratory illness, particularly in children and the elderly, can trigger severe asthma symptoms and aggravates heart and lung disease. Sulfur dioxide reacts with other chemicals in the air to form tiny sulfate particles which can be inhaled and can collect in the lungs. These particles have been associated with difficulty in breathing, increased respiratory illness and premature death.

Environmental Concerns

Sulfur dioxide contributes to the formation of acid rain, impairs visibility, causes haze and is so corrosive that it can damage plants, lakes and even statues and buildings.

Coal-burning power plants and refineries are the primary sources of sulfur dioxide. Some older power plants built before 1970 are allowed to operate without the pollution control equipment necessary to control emissions of sulfur dioxide. Some of the most health-damaging coal-fired plants are found in the Ohio River Valley and the eastern and southern Appalachian mountain states.

Stay Safe

If you can, keep a buffer zone of several thousand feet between power plants, refineries, and your home, workplace and recreational spaces.

Take Action

More than 150 new coal-fired power plants are in various stages of planning across the country. Contact your state environmental agency to find out if there is a coal-fired power plant being considered for your area. You have a right to speak out against the project, either during a public comment period or a public hearing.

Using clean energy instead of dirty coal will also help clear the air of sulfur dioxide as well as other air pollutants. Urge government leaders to support the development of wind, solar and other clean, renewable energy resources will make everyone breathe easier.

Learn More

Sulfur Dioxide, EPA

Toxicological Profile for Sulfur Dioxide, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Switchboard: latest NRDC blog posts on smog

last revised 12/27/2011

Get Updates and Alerts

See the latest issue >

NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs

Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.

Donate now >

Share | |
Find NRDC on