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Multistep reactions.

According to "Disaster Goes Global" (SN: 8/30/08, p. 16), sulfur dioxide reacts with water vapor in the air to produce sulfuric acid. Is this possible? When sulfur dioxide dissolves in water, it produces sulfurous acid, not sulfuric. Industrial production of sulfuric acid requires that sulfur dioxide be further oxidized to give sulfur trioxide, which produces sulfuric acid when dissolved in water.

John Myers, San Diego, Calif.

The sulfuric acid in volcanic aerosols is the result of not one reaction but a series of reactions involving sulfur dioxide (from the volcano), oxygen (from the atmosphere) and water (from both sources). One of those pathways, as you mention, first creates sulfurous acid that then reacts with oxygen to make sulfuric acid In the other set of reactions, sulfur dioxide reacts with oxygen to make sulfur trioxide, which then reacts with water to create sulfuric acid.--Sid Perkins
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Title Annotation:FEEDBACK
Author:Myers, John; Perkins, Sid
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Nov 8, 2008
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