This paper will basically present a detailed discussion of acid rains. To do so, the paper will first define acid rain and how it is formed. Causes of acid rain are also addressed in this paper including a detailed description of what wet and dry depositions mean as far as acid rain is concerned. Effects of acid rain are also looked at length. This includes effects on surface waters and aquatic life, forests automotive coatings, visibility and finally but not least its effect on human health. The paper also looks at the steps that have been taken to curb the effects of acid rain. Some of the solutions identified broadly include societal changes and individual action.
Acid rain is type of rain that has some amounts acids found in the atmosphere when industrial emissions especially nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide mix with water. It’s also known as acid precipitation or acid deposition. It is precipitation that has got harmful levels of nitric and sulphuric acids formed basically by sulfur dioxide and nitrogen produced when fossil fuels burn. Has a PH below 5.6 which is that of the normal rain.
Wet and Dry Deposition
Deposition occurs when precipitation for example rain or snow etc removes acids from the atmosphere and brings it to the earth’s surface resulting in the deposition of acids formed in the raindrops. Wet removal of gases and aerosols is paramount to wet deposition. For wet deposition to occur, moisture is prerequisite hence the word wet. Water has to coagulate with the aerosols to form a precipitation that falls on earth’s surface in liquid form.
Dry deposition on the other hand occurs via deposition in the absence of precipitation. It normally occurs when gases and particles stick to the earth, plants and other surfaces. Aerosols are carried by wind and getting deposited on ground, plants surfaces and other surfaces. Dry deposition normally occurs near the source of the pollutants as opposed to wet deposition that can occur far away from the source of the emissions because of the water in it.
Effects of Acid Rain
The effects of acid rain are adverse and diverse to an extent that they can not be overlooked. The effect is basically environmental and thus affects everything under the sun because the re all dependant on the environment. Below there are elected areas that have bore the scourging effect of acid rain but there are many more. In as much as these effects are adverse but there is a solution to every problem that faces mankind. Therefore as we look at these effects, lets think and try to analyze possible solutions to these problems caused by acid rain.
Surface Waters and Aquatic Life
Acid rain water flows into lakes and marshes. It also falls directly on aquatic habitats. Most of these water bodies have PHs between 6 and 8. Acid rain changes the PH of surface waters by lowering it. The high concentration of aluminum in the acid rain is also a bad addition to the surface waters. This is dangerous to aquatic habitat especially fish. Fish eggs do not survive under PHs lower than 5 and as a result would not hatch. Consequently lower PHs eliminates adult fish. Increase I acidity of rivers and lakes greatly reduces biodiversity. The reduced PH and increased aluminum concentrations also result in reduced body weight and smaller fish making them incapable of competing for habitat and food.
Although some plants and animals are adapted to acidic waters, others are highly sensitive and will disappear as the PH reduces. This will greatly interfere with the aquatic habitat.
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Biological organisms and the environment they live in form an ecosystem (aquatic). Aquatic plants and animals are interdependent. Because of this interdependence in aquatic lifestyle, changes in the PH or increase in aluminum levels interferes with biodiversity as well because there are those organisms that will be extinct and ultimately affecting the food web in that ecosystem.
Nitrogen which is a component of acid rain has the effect of causing eutrophication or depletion of oxygen in water bodies. Signs of eutrophication results in the formation of algae that is, either toxic or non-toxic, poor fish health, and loss of under sea features like beds and coral reefs and changes in the food web. The ecological food web change has got far reaching effects on the human population by affecting the supply of seafood and the risk of eating contaminated fish.
The effects may be indirectly related to acid rain. For example the effect may start from effects caused on the soil where important microbes that can not survive under low PH are killed. Acid rain causes reduced growth, harm, or extinction of forests. It affects trees by destroying there leaves, restricting the nutrients accessible to them or revealing them to toxic substances free in the soil.
Acid rain can also cause forest to dry because of the low PH. This normally occurs in forests that are in high altitudes. When forests dry due to acid rain, they re dead and gone and the aftermath are adverse environmental effects that will go along way in affecting all living things under the sun.
Scientists have also discovered that acid rain also dissolves nutrients and important minerals in the soil and erodes them sooner than trees and other plants can utilize them. Again acid rain results in the release of harmful substances into the soil like aluminum that is toxic to trees.
Acid rain and dry deposition of acidic particles are responsible for the corrosion of metals such as bronze ant the dilapidation of paint and stone like marble and limestone. These effects greatly decrease the worth of buildings monuments, statues and cars. The damage occurs on the horizontal surfaces. It is realized as irregularly shaped, permanently destroyed Areas. The damage is permanent in most cases and ones it’s destroyed the only solution is to repaint which is expensive.
Limestone and marble are materials used to build structures and have been at the center of these effects. They are washed down leaving structures in very bad conditions.
The sulfuric and nitric acids in the rain fall as rain, snow fog or may fall in the form of dry deposition. All forms of acid rain be it dry deposition particularly when coagulates with dew or rain, may damage automotive coatings. I n the automotive industry they attribute this kind of corrosion to ‘environmental fallout’.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions play a part in visibility impairment, implying that we cannot see as far or as clearly through the air. It has been established that surface particles account for 50% to 70% of the visibility reduction in the United States. In as much as nitrates and carbon play roles, sulfates have been sited as a major source of visibility impairment in many Colorado River plateau parks.
Since acid rain is exactly like acid rain in appearance and taste, harm to people is not apparent. However the pollutants in acid rain that is sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are harmful to human health. These gases can be carried by air for long distances and inhaled by humans into their lungs. Scientific researches have established a correlation between increased levels of fine particle and increased sickness and premature death from heart and lung disorders like asthma and bronchitis.
Furthermore, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide apart from causing asthma can also cause dry coughs, headaches, and eye, nose and throat irritations. Acid rain can injure or irritate lungs and can result in liver problems and diarrhea.
Sulfuric and nitric acids can breakdown the coating oily coating of the human skin that is protective thus rendering it useless. This results in drying of the skin and consequent bacteria infections.
Another danger of acid rain to humans is on acid precipitation which breaks down toxic metals in the ground with compounds. The rain breaks down these compounds and releases the toxic metals that are washed into water sources. Some of these metals is mercury that ends up being eaten by fish. Therefore eating that has consumed mercury can be deadly. Mercury can cause damage to the brain in children including nervous disorders and even death. Another metal is aluminum that leads to kidney complications if consumed by humans.
Acidic water can react with lead and copper pipes therefore contaminating our water for drinking. A lot of cooper in drinking water can also cause kidney and liver problems.
The consequence of air pollution increases the occurrence of colds, allergies, and coughs in children. It is also believed that acid rain plays a major role in Alzheimer’s disease due to toxic metals like mercury and aluminum.
Reducing Acid Rain
The effects of acid rain are so adverse that several considerations have been put in place to curb these effects. These actions range from societal changes to individual action. It is of supreme importance that acid deposition is controlled all over the world to save the natural habitats from getting ruined and mitigate damage to man-made structures. To reduce effects caused by acid rain, people need to know how acid rain damages the environment and also understand the kinds of adjustments that could be made to the sources of air pollution that cause this menace.
This includes a number of actions that involve but not tied down to the following:
Clean up smokestack and exhaust pipes and using coal that has less percentage of sulfur could go along away to handle the situation. Washing the coal and using scrubbers to remove the sulfur dioxide from the gases leaving the smokestacks. Power generating plants can also switch fuels and use natural gases that produce far less sulfur dioxide than coal. Power plants can also use technology that does not bur fossil fuels.
Just like the scrubbers, catalytic converters reduce nitrogen oxide from cars. Changes have also been made to gasoline for it to burner cleaner.
Use of alternative energy sources is another very important strategy. Besides fossil fuels, there are others that include nuclear, hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy and solar energy. Of all these, hydropower and nuclear energy are the ones that are widely used the others have not been tapped on a large scale. There are also alternative energies available to power automobiles. This includes cars powered by natural gas, battery, fuel cells and gasoline.
Restoring a damaged environment is another way of reducing the effects of acid rain. For example limestone can be added to acidic lakes to make them reduce the acidity a process called liming. This process has widely been used in Norway and Sweden. Liming is termed as expensive and short term remedy. In addition it does not solve the problem of changes in soil chemistry and forest health and does nothing to address visibility reduction, materials damage, and risk to human health.
Enactment of legislative laws on pollution can also help reduce and ultimately stop acid rain. Laws should be set up to regulate the amount of emissions that is allowed from factories and power plants. Also to be regulated is the kinds of vehicles to be manufactured and to be bought. They should be those that don’t use fossil fuels that emit environmentally unfriendly gases but those that are powered by other alternative sources of energy. These laws if put in place will greatly have a positive impact on acid rain and its adverse effects.
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Although it seem like there is nothing much that an individual can do to reduce the effects of acid rain but acid deposition is due to cumulative actions of millions of individual people. There it can like wise take individual effort to again reduce there contribution to the problem and instead be part of the solution.
Individuals can directly contribute by conserving energy, since energy production causes the largest portion of the acid deposition. For example, individually you can do the following;
- Use energy efficient appliances for lighting, heaters, washing machines and even refrigerators. This will save on the energy and since the energy that they use is produced by burning fossil fuels, a lot of it is saved plus the saving of the burning of fossil fuels since less energy is needed.
- Switch off lights and other appliances when not using them. Whenever there is natural light, lights should be switched off for conservation purposes.
- Use cars that emit low nitrogen oxide and good vehicle maintenance. Well maintained cars do not emit a lot of smoke even when they are old. Similarly, those that use natural gases are more environmental friendly then those that use fossil fuels like petrol. By doing so, one greatly reduces the chances of acid rain occurring and by extension, the effects accompanying it.
- Insulate your home to the best of your ability.
- Use public transport or walk or use a bicycle every time you can. This will reduce the emissions into the air from the burning of fossil fuels. This will reduce the rates of emission of pollutants into the air that are bound to bring about acid rain.
- Educate other people. Let people know the consequences of their actions. For example the consequences of using gas-guzzlers. Don’t take a back seat take action because your sole contribution will make a big difference.
- As an individual, plant a tree. Although it something that people take for granted but it is of supreme importance when it comes to reviving of an otherwise degraded environment. The tree will absorb some of the polluted air and put out clean fresh air. Imagine if people individually planted trees all over the world? The world would be a better place to live.
This paper has discussed very critical issues concerning acid rain that affect the whole world. It is evident that we are all prone to the effects of acid rain and that we are one of the major contributors to the occurrence of acid deposition. The effects are also far reaching to our own environment. We are dependant on the environment and if we destroy it we have destroyed our selves. With all these, there is a way out. That is, we can take action either as an individual or a group (society) and curb this menace that is threatening to consumer us. The time is now as the ball is our court, either to score or loss.