Sulfur dioxide in aqueous solutions at low pH levels exists both in molecular SO2(aq) and in hydrolyzed ionic form HSO3-. Experiments indicate that only HSO3- is the reacting species in the oxidation catalyzed by activated carbon, while SO2(aq) deactivates by competing with HSO3 for the active sites of the catalyst particles. A mechanism is proposed and a rate model is developed that also accounts for the effect of sulfuric acid (product of the oxidation) on the solubility of sulfur dioxide. It predicts first order in HSO3-, half order in dissolved oxygen, and a linear deactivation effect of SO2(aq), which are confirmed by experimental data. The deactivation reaches a constant level corresponding to saturation of the active sites by SO2(aq). Activation energy for the oxidation is 93.55 kJ mol(-1) and for deactivation is 21.4 kJ mol(-1).