Georgia Sulfur VP speaks at Rotary Club meeting

Published 9:21 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Economic Developer Rick McCaskill introduced Tuesday’s speaker to Rotary he said he needed to forget everything he always thought he knew about sulfur. He then introduced Randy Dunlap, vice-president of Georgia Gulf Sulfur, who gave an update on the company and some facts about sulfur, including the many varied uses of the product.

Originally sulfur was referred to as brimstone in the Bible. It has long been known for its rotten egg smell, but Dunlap explained how that is no longer the case.

For many years sulfur was mined and it was the impurities in it that gave it the malodorous odor.

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Now, all sulfur comes from natural gas and oil refineries and is odorless, he explained. The product is in liquid form at 250 degrees Fahrenheit when loaded onto trucks or rail for shipment to the local plant.

By the time it arrives it has cooled down into a solid. Gulf Sulfur reheats it to a liquid and stores it in underground tanks, which are also kept heated. At the time it is processed, they cure it out to a corn flake consistency, then grind it into a fine powder like talcum.

Another interesting fact he gave is that it is the sulfur found naturally in the ground where onions are raised that causes the eyes to water when onions are peeled and sliced. There again, since there is little sulfur content in the soil around Vidalia, those onions are sweet and do not produce the watery eyes.

Sulfur has some surprising uses. The most widely use of the product is in agriculture as in phosphate fertilizer. Other uses include being a vulcanizing agent for rubber used in tires, shoe soles and rubber backing for rugs. It is also used for sugar refining, steel making organic chemicals, matches, pesticides and paper products.

The poultry industry uses it in powdered form to feed chickens. It helps control mites on the chicks. They also use it as a spray on the floors of chicken houses to cut down on ammonia.

Georgia Gulf Sulfur is the largest sulfur plant in North America. Actually the Bainbridge plant has two businesses, the second being the Bainbridge Chemical Corporation that produces emulsified sulfur. It also owns two plants in Texas that are the oldest sulfur plants in the U.S.

Sulfur does an annual business of $150 to $175 million dollars, and employs 21 people at the local plant.

Dunlap mentioned one more use of sulfur is in making explosives, adding, “As those of you in Bainbridge know, we’ve had a few ourselves.” He clarified that has happened less in recent years because of changes made in the manufacturing process making it easier to control.