Thursday, March 28, 2013


Acid rain was first described by an English man in 1872. He was a chemist and was first to note that rain that fell had a high percentage of acidity which effected man, animal and plants. It is now the most controversial form of air pollution in the developed world.
Rain clouds
Acid rain is a form of pollution which became a serious environmental problem in the large urban and industrial areas of North America, Europe and Asia. Any precipitation that contains a heavy concentration of Sulphuric Acid (H2SO4) and Nitric Acid (HNO3) is generally called acid rain. Automobile industries, electrical power plants and some other industrial operations that burn fossil fuels and emit the gases like sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO2) into the environment. In the air the gases meet with water vapour available in clouds to reform Sulphuric Acid and Nitric Acid. This acid rain or highly acidic precipitation from those clouds may contaminate lakes and streams, thereby, harming the fishes and other aquatic species. It also causes a great harm to vegetation including agricultural crops and plants and trees. Now-a-days acid rain or acid precipitation has become a threatening problem for the environment and humankind.

Acid rain is rain that has been made acidic by certain pollutants in the air. Acid rain is a type of acid deposition, which can appear in many forms. Wet deposition is rain, sleet, snow, or fog that has become more acidic than normal. Dry deposition is another form of acid deposition, and this is when gases and dust particles become acidic. Both wet and dry deposition can be carried by the wind, sometimes for very long distances. Acid deposition in wet and dry forms falls on buildings, cars, and trees and can make lakes acidic. Acid deposition in dry form can be inhaled by people and can cause health problems in some people.
What is acidity?
Acidic and basic are two ways that we describe chemical compounds. Acidity is measured using a pH scale. A pH scale runs from zero (the most acidic) to 14 (the most basic or alkaline). A substance that is neither basic or acidic is called "neutral", and this has a pH of 7.

Sources of Acid RainAcid rain is caused by a chemical reaction that begins when compounds like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the air. These substances can rise very high into the atmosphere, where they mix and react with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form more acidic pollutants, known as acid rain. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides dissolve very easily in water and can be carried very far by the wind. As a result, the two compounds can travel long distances where they become part of the rain, sleet, snow, and fog that we experience on certain days.
Human activities are the main cause of acid rain. Over the past few decades, humans have released so many different chemicals into the air that they have changed the mix of gases in the atmosphere. Power plants release the majority of sulfur dioxide and much of the nitrogen oxides when they burn fossil fuels, such as coal, to produce electricity. In addition, the exhaust from cars, trucks, and buses releases nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide into the air. These pollutants cause acid rain.
Acid Rain is Caused by Reactions in the Environment
Nature depends on balance, and although some rain is naturally acidic, with a pH level of around 5.0, human activities have made it worse. Normal precipitation—such as rain, sleet, or snow—reacts with alkaline chemicals, or non-acidic materials, that can be found in air, soils, bedrock, lakes, and streams. These reactions usually neutralize natural acids. However, if precipitation becomes too acidic, these materials may not be able to neutralize all of the acids. Over time, these neutralizing materials can be washed away by acid rain. Damage to crops, trees, lakes, rivers, and animals can result.

Why is Acid Rain Harmful?

Tree affected by acid rainAcid Rain Can Cause Health Problems in People
Air pollution like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can cause respiratory diseases, or can make these diseases worse. Respiratory diseases like asthma or chronic bronchitis make it hard for people to breathe. The pollution that causes acid rain can also create tiny particles. When these particles get into people’s lungs, they can cause health problems, or can make existing health problems worse. Also, nitrogen oxides cause ground-level ozone. This ground-level ozone causes respiratory problems, like pneumonia and bronchitis, and can even cause permanent lung damage. The health effects that people have to worry about are not caused by the acid rain, but are caused when people breathe in these tiny particles or ozone. Swimming in an acidic lake or walking in an acidic puddle is no more harmful to people than swimming or walking in clean water.
Acid Rain Harms Forests
Acid rain can be extremely harmful to forests. Acid rain that seeps into the ground can dissolve nutrients, such as magnesium and calcium, that trees need to be healthy. Acid rain also causes aluminum to be released into the soil, which makes it difficult for trees to take up water. Trees that are located in mountainous regions at higher elevations, such as spruce or fir trees, are at greater risk because they are exposed to acidic clouds and fog, which contain greater amounts of acid than rain or snow. The acidic clouds and fog strip important nutrients from their leaves and needles. This loss of nutrients makes it easier for infections, insects, and cold weather to damage trees and forests.
Acid Rain Damages Lakes and StreamsWithout pollution or acid rain, most lakes and streams would have a pH level near 6.5. Acid rain, however, has caused many lakes and streams in the northeast United States and certain other places to have much lower pH levels. In addition, aluminum that is released into the soil eventually ends up in lakes and streams. Unfortunately, this increase in acidity and aluminum levels can be deadly to aquatic wildlife, including phytoplankton, mayflies, rainbow trout, small mouth bass, frogs, spotted salamanders, crayfish, and other creatures that are part of the food web.
This problem can become much worse during heavy downpours of rain or when the snow begins to melt in the spring. These types of events are known as episodic acidification.
Acid Rain Damages Buildings and Objects
Acid rain can also have a damaging effect on many objects, including buildings, statues, monuments, and cars. The chemicals found in acid rain can cause paint to peel and stone statues to begin to appear old and worn down, which reduces their value and beauty.
What is Being Done?

Capitol BuildingNow that you know why acid rain is a problem, you might be wondering what’s being done to control it. Regulations and new technologies are helping reduce acid rain.
EPA’s Acid Rain Program
Power plants generate the electricity we use every day. Unfortunately, power plants also produce large amounts of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide—the pollutants that cause acid rain—when they burn fossil fuels, especially coal, to produce energy. Congress passed a law called the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and this law said that EPA should start the Acid Rain Program. The program limits, or puts a cap on, the amount of sulfur dioxide that power plants can release into the air and issues allowances to the power plants to cover their sulfur dioxide emissions. It also reduces the amount of nitrogen oxides that power plants can release.
Reducing Pollution
Scientists have found different ways to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide released from coal-burning power plants. One option is to use coal that contains less sulfur. Another option is to “wash” the coal to remove some of the sulfur. The power plant can also install equipment called scrubbers, which remove the sulfur dioxide from gases leaving the smokestack. Because nitrogen oxides are created in the process of burning coal and other fossil fuels, some power plants are changing the way they burn coal.
Other Sources of Energy
A great way to reduce acid rain is to produce energy without using fossil fuels. Instead, people can use renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Renewable energy sources help reduce acid rain because they produce much less pollution. These energy sources can be used to power machinery and produce electricity.
Cleaner Cars
Cars and trucks are major sources of the pollutants that cause acid rain. While one car alone does not produce much pollution, all the cars on the road added together create lots of pollution. Therefore, car manufacturers are required to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants released by new cars. One type of technology used in cars is called a catalytic converter. This piece of equipment has been used for over 20 years to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides released by cars. Some new cars can also use cleaner fuels, such as natural gas. Cars that produce less pollution and are better for the environment are often labeled as low emissions vehicles.
What Can You Do?
People carpooling to reduce the creation of acid rain.Government agencies and scientists are not the only ones that can take action to stop acid rain. You can become part of the solution, too!
Understand the Problem
The first step you can take to help control acid rain is to understand the problem and its solutions. Now that you have learned about this environmental issue, you can tell others about it. By telling your classmates, parents, and teachers about what you learned on this site, you can help educate them about the problem of acid rain. You CAN make a difference!
Conserve Energy
Since energy production creates large amounts of the pollutants that cause acid rain, one important step you can take is to conserve energy. You can do this in a number of ways:
  • Turn off lights, computers, televisions, video games, and other electrical equipment when you're not using them.
  • Encourage your parents to buy equipment that uses less electricity, including lights, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators, and washing machines. Such equipment might have the Energy Star label.
  • Try to limit the use of air conditioning.
  • Ask your parents to adjust the thermostat (the device used to control the temperature in your home) when you go on vacation.
Minimize the Miles
Driving cars and trucks also produces large amounts of nitrogen oxides, which cause acid rain. To help cut down on air pollution from cars, you can carpool or take public transportation, such as buses and trains. Also, ask your parents to walk or bike with you to a nearby store or friend’s house instead of driving.

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