Sulfur is assimilated and used by several organisms in different ways. As a characteristic part of enzymes and structure proteins, it plays an important part in, for example, biological redox systems, blood coagulation, and the natural detoxification of many organisms; and is essential for their development. On the other hand, many organic sulfur compounds such as thiols, sulfides, and disulfides are a risk to human health and the environment.
Some thiols disrupt the central nervous system, while others have a more minor effect. Their ability to release primary irritations of the skin and mucous membrane varies. Toxicity decreases with increasing chain length and the recommended human handling levels depend on the substance concerned.
The physiological activity of sulfides increases with molecular weight and complexity. Diethyl sulfide has been found to cause gastroenteritis. More complex compounds like allyl sulfides display antiseptic properties. Polyvinyl sulfides have a bactericidal effect. Nitro-, chloro-, and hydroxy-substituted diaryl sulfides possess insecticidal properties.
Another important reason for the growing public interest in analytical developments regarding sulfur compounds is the improved awareness of global processes like the sulfur cycle. Consequently, increasing attention is being paid to:
The monitoring of the emission of organic sulfur compounds Determining the potential formation of metabolites to predict possible risks Product development, process monitoring, and quality control to minimize toxic, harmful, and dangerous products and byproducts.
Sulfur-containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (see Section V.B) feature in all three categories.
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