Hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S), also known as rotten egg gas, sewer gas, stink damp and sour damp, is colorless but highly toxic. It smells like rotten eggs at low concentrations but can kill within minutes of exposure when it reaches 150 parts per million or more.
In the environment, H2S is produced when bacteria break down organic material in the absence of oxygen. This usually happens in stagnant water, such as bogs and swamps, but can occur in unrefined petroleum and natural gas, volcanic gases, liquid manure and sewage sludge. It can also be released by human activities, such as decomposing garbage and rotting flesh. Landfills and construction debris containing wallboard, which releases H2S as it breaks down, are common sources.
The most common way to get exposed to hydrogen sulfide is through breathing. It can also be absorbed through the skin and eyes. It can cause irritation of the nose and throat, as well as nausea and headaches. At high concentrations, it can cause pulmonary edema, which makes it difficult to breathe. Its toxicity is similar to that of carbon monoxide, preventing cellular respiration and resulting in death.
A team of Rice engineers and scientists have developed a way to make hydrogen sulfide gas from household chemicals. Their work, described in the journal ACS Energy Letters, could help petrochemical refineries and other industries turn a smelly byproduct into cash. The process uses gold nanoparticles to convert sulfide into usable hydrogen and sulfur in a single step, with no electricity required.