ng our waters,animals, plants, soil, and more. It is a problem that can not be ignored or it might havecatastrophic results on our environment. Acid rain is caused by air pollution, which isdue to man-made actions. Scientists have discovered that air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is themajor cause of acid rain. Power plants and factories burn coal and oil, which is used toproduce the electricity we need to heat and light our homes and to run our electricappliances.
We also burn natural gas, coal, and oil to heat our homes, and our cars,trucks, boats, and airplanes use gasoline to run, which is another fossil fuel. The smoke and fumes from burning fossil fuels rise into the atmosphere and combinewith the moisture in the air to form acid rain. The main chemicals in air pollution thatcreate acid rain are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Acid rain usually forms high in theclouds where sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with water, oxygen, and oxidants. This forms a mild solution of sulfuric acid and nitric acid. Sunlight then increases the rateof these reactions.
Rainwater, snow, fog, and other forms of precipitation containingthose mild solutions of sulfuric and nitric acids fall to the earth as acid rain. Acid rain is a much more complex problem then most people realize. Acid raindoes not only drop dangerously high levels of acid into the ground directly affectingwildlife but it also mixes with other elements and compounds in the earth which thenbecome harmful to the environment. For example aluminum is one of the most commonmetals on earth. It is stored in a combined form with other elements in the earth. When itis combined it cannot dissolve into the water and soil and harm the fish and plants.
However the acid from acid rain can easily dissolve the bond between these elements. The Aluminum is then dissolved into a more soluble state by the acid. Other metals suchas copper and iron are similarly affected however it is the aluminum that is the mostcommon. In this form it is easily absorbed into the water. When it comes in contact withfish it causes irritation to the gills. This irritation in turn causes fish to create a film ofmucus in the gills to stop this irritation until the irritant is gone.
However the aluminumdoes not go always and the fish continues to build up more and more mucus to counteractit. Eventually there is so much mucus that it clogs the gills. When this occurs, the fish canno longer breath. It dies and then sinks to the bottom of the lake. Scientist predict thatacid rain is one of the leading causes the possible extinction of fish.
This does not onlyaffect the fish in the water, it affects everything including humans. These lakes andstreams are not just homes for aqualife but they are our sources of water too. Another very large problem is the effect of acid rain on trees. When a tree’s rootsabsorb water from the ground it is taking in its source of life, and when acid rain rainsaround that tree, its life source is poisoned.
Tree’s leaves and needles begin to drop off,and seedlings fail to produce new trees. The acid also reacts with many nutrients the treesneed, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. This starves the trees, and theybecome much more susceptible to other forms of damage, such as being blown down, orbreaking under the weight of snow. Also forests in high mountain regions receiveadditional acid from the acidic clouds and fog that often surround them.
These clouds andfog are often more acidic than rainfall. When leaves are frequently bathed in this acid fog,their protective waxy coating can wear away. The loss of the coating damages the leavesand creates brown spots. When the leaves are damaged, they cannot produce enough foodenergy for the tree to remain healthy.
Acid rain does not only poison our drinking water, but it is very corrosive. Acidrain is known to contribute to the corrosion of metals and deterioration of stone and paintin buildings, statues, and other structures of cultural significance. Human-made materialsgradually deteriorate even when exposed unpolluted rain, but acid rain accelerates theprocess. For example, the Capitol building in Ottawa has been disintegrating because ofexcess sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. Limestone and marble turn to a crumblingsubstance called gypsum upon contact with the acid, which explains the corrosion ofbuildings and statues.
In addition, bridges are corroding at a faster rate, and the railwayindustries as well as the airplane industry have had to put more money in repairing thecorrosive damage done by acid rain. Not only is this an economically taxing problemcaused by acid rain, but also a safety hazard to the general public. In 1967 the bridge overthe Ohio River collapsed killing 46 people, the reason was corrosion due to acid rain. Dry deposition of acidic compounds can also dirty buildings and other structures, leadingto increased maintenance costs. Also, there is growing concern about the potential health risks associated with acid rain.
Recent reports suggest, for example, that downwind derivatives of sulfur dioxide, knownas acid aerosols, may pose serious health threats throughout the eastern United States. Inhalation of acid aerosols may lead to bronchitis in children and decreased lung functionin adults, particularly asthmatics. Controlling acid rain will play an important role inreducing these risks. In Europe there have already been several birth defects that havebeen. So what is being done to fix our problem with acid rain? The EPA orEnvironmental Protection Agency in 1990 had a clean air law passed. This law is aprogram designed to significantly reduce acid rain.
The overall goal of the ARP (AcidRain Program) is to achieve significant environmental and public health benefits throughreductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX), the primarycauses of acid rain. The program encourages energy efficiency and pollution prevention. The Acid Rain Program began with the reduction of SO2 emissions by 10 million tonsbelow the 1980 levels. To achieve these reductions, the law requires a two-phasetightening of the restrictions placed on fossil fuel-fired power plants. Phase 1 began in1995 and has had very positive results.
Phase 2 is scheduled to start in the year 2000. The Acid Rain Program’s other half was the reduction of NOX. Program focuses on oneset of sources that emit NOX, coal-fired electric utility boilers, the same as the SO2program. Similar to the SO2 emission reduction requirements, the NOX program isimplemented in two phases, beginning in 1996 and 2000. This program puts very strictlimitations on these boilers.
The problem of acid rain can not only be fixed by putting limitations on thesehuge boilers, this just slows down the process of the destruction acid rain does. The onlyway to stop burning these electric utility burners is to find a way to replace them. That iswhy scientists the world over have been looking for alternative sources of power. Thereare other sources of energy besides fossil fuels.
These include hydroelectric power andnuclear power. Dams use the power of water to turn turbines and make electricity. Peoplehave been using this form of energy for most of this century. Nuclear power plants makeelectricity from the energy released by splitting atoms. A small amount of nuclear fuelcan make a very large amount of electricity.
There are problems with using hydroelectric and nuclear power. Hydroelectric plantsrequire a constant source of water. Since rainfall is not always predictable, hydroelectricplants are not as reliable as those using coal or oil are. Hydroelectric plants can also harmthe environment. Thousands of acres of land often have to be flooded to create areservoir, a holding place for the great amounts of water needed to power these plants. Sometimes the land that would be flooded is home to rare types of plants or animals.
Nuclear power plants produce electricity cheaply. But the nuclear waste they leaveremains dangerous for thousands of years. Scientists are looking at other energy sources, such as windmills and solar energy, usingthe power of the sun itself. In several states, there are modern windmills like airplanepropellers that make energy from the wind.
In other places, wind power pumps waterfrom the ground. In Arizona and New Mexico, solar energy is at work making electricpower. Each of these sources has drawbacks as well. Windmills and solar panels arereliable only where it is windy or sunny most of the time. All sources of energy havebenefits and limitations, including the cost of producing the energy. All of these factorsmust be weighed when deciding which energy source to use.
Thus, it is seen that the rectification of the very pressing issue of acid rain should be oneof Mankind’s greatest goals. There are too many possible solutions and alternatives toendanger the world with this dangerous risk to humanity’s environment, buildings andaccomplishments, and water supply. Through even more litigation and law enforcement,and the many other alternative solutions, the Earth can be saved from this severe threat.