Acid rain is a multifarious environmental issue which affects the entire world. Since creation, humans have used and manipulated the available natural resources.
“Natural resources like timber, water, and fossil fuel such as oil, coal, and natural gas are used by man for enhancing their lives. Fossil fuel is used for producing electricity and as fuel for our vehicles.”
However, burning of these fuels can cause pollution. Pollution refers to the production of harmful substances in the environment. Let’s understand more about acid rain, its potential effects and ways to minimize it.
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What Is Acid Rain?
Acid rain is referred to the rain which is mixed with dry and wet chemical pollutants. These include nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. These particles in the atmosphere mix with water vapor and precipitate down in the form of sulfuric or nitric acid in fog, snow, and rain. Although some of these gases do occur in the environment naturally, burning of fossil fuel results in an increased concentration of these gases in the air. Automobile fumes, coal-burning industries, thermal plants, and steel industries are some of the core industries that contribute to the release of pollutants.
The acidity of normal water is in the range of neutral or pH 7.0. The pH of rainwater is slightly acidic. However, when it gets mixed with toxic pollutants it tends to increase the acidity up to pH 2. When acid rain falls, it can result in deposition of the pollutants on soil, vegetation, surface waters and other water reservoirs.
“Toxic deposition can also occur through dry deposition of particles and gases.”
According to reports from the New York Times, the most acidic rain with pH 4.08 was recorded at the Leading Ridge in Huntingdon County, located in Pennsylvania. This recorded pH was 33 times more acidic in comparison to the normal rain.
Effects Of Acid Rain On Bionetworks
Acid rain and pollution can cause severe damage to various natural bio-networks. Bio-networks comprise of all living and non-living things and their interactions. Acid rain can cause significant damage to vegetation, forests and associated ecosystems. Acid rain leads to poor growth or even death in some plant species. Some of the species of trees that show higher susceptibility towards damage from acid rain include the Sugar Maple tree and the Red Spruce tree. These trees require calcium for its growth. However, acid rain dissolves the calcium available in the soil and leaves of the trees resulting in poor growth and death.
The water bodies including lakes, streams, and marshes are also affected by acid rain. The clearest effect is observed in the aquatic environments. As these streams and lakes turn acidic, the number of aquatic plants and fishes decrease. Various water pollutants that deposit on the water surfaces also have toxic effects on the aquatic life. Most of the fish cannot survive in water with a pH below 5.0.
Humans are not spared from these effects that are created by humans themselves. The acidic deposits have several devastating effects on human health. The pollutants like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide can lead to irritation and damage to our lungs. Increase in respiratory illness and weakened immune systems are some of the immediate effects of deposition of pollutants.
“Respiratory illnesses like emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma are very common in developed and developing countries. Acid rains can also damage various man-made materials like statues, historical monuments, and buildings.”
What Can We Do To Evade Acid Rain?
The most obvious answer to the question is to minimize the release of pollutants. Various methods and plans have been suggested to the industries which emit the toxic pollutants that result in acid rain.
One of the methods includes introducing a scrubber for industries which make use of a smokestack. The scrubber removes sulfur from smoke and can minimize the emission of pollutants in the environment. The scrubber sprays a mixture of limestone and water into the smokestack which then traps the sulfur and prevents it from escaping into the environment. A number of plants also chose to wash the sulfur from coal before it is burned. Various environmental agencies effectively work on monitoring the data collected from different stations in an effort to minimize the emission levels of pollutants in the environment that cause acid rain.
We as informed citizens should also contribute towards minimizing environmental issues such as acid rain. These include conservation of electricity, recycling materials, the use of energy-efficient bulbs, and by minimizing our individual “carbon footprints”. Together we can change the future of our planet.