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Environment

Sulfuryl Fluoride Persists In Atmosphere

Greenhouse gas lingers 10 times longer than previously thought

by Rachel A. Petkewich
February 2, 2009 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 87, ISSUE 5

Sulfuryl fluoride has an atmospheric lifetime of 30–40 years, roughly 10 times longer than previously estimated, according to new research. The gas is used primarily as a termite fumigant, but the agricultural industry is considering it as an alternative to methyl bromide, a pest-control agent that is being phased out. Although its atmospheric concentration is much lower than that of CO2, SO2F2 traps 4,000 times more heat than CO2 does per unit mass. The new estimate of longer lived atmospheric SO2F2 derives in part from laboratory studies by Mads P. Sulbaek Andersen at the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues, who found that typical atmospheric-cleansing reactions with hydroxyl radicals, ozone, and chlorine atoms cannot efficiently remove SO2F2 from air (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es802439f). In a separate study reporting the first atmospheric measurements of SO2F2, Jens Mühle at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues found about one-third less SO2F2 than would be expected on the basis of industry production estimates. They suggest the difference may be due to decomposition of the gas during fumigation (J. Geophys. Res., DOI: 10.1029/2008JD011162).

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