Humans have many uses for sulfur, including the production of gunpowder. The Chinese first used sulfur in explosives and fireworks around 500 B.C. The Egyptians began using sulfur dioxide to bleach cotton materials over 4,000 years ago.
Sulfur is an essential ingredient in the vulcanization of rubber. Without this chemical element, the rubber that manufacturers use to make tires for vehicles would remain sticky, making automobile travel impractical. Paper manufacturers use sulfur compounds to bleach their finished product. These sulfur compounds are responsible for the characteristic odor related to paper mills. It is also used in pesticides, dyes and fungicides. Manufacturers convert elemental sulfur to sulfuric acid for use in fertilizer, production of paints and lead acid storage batteries.
While sulfur is essential for human life, its compounds are highly toxic. Hydrogen sulfide gas is an atmospheric pollutant. While the lungs are able to metabolize small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, larger amounts deaden the sense of smell, cause respiratory paralysis and lead to death, according to About.com.
Sulfur is a chemical element that readily reacts with many other compounds. Elemental sulfur is a yellow solid, and exists in both a crystalline and rhombic form. When the solid melts it forms a blood red liquid. If ignited, it burns with a blue flame.