The Acid Rain Issue


Acid Rain is a serious problem with disastrous effects. Every day this problem increases. Many believe that this issue is too small to deal with, but if the acid rain problem is not met with head on, the effects on people, plants, animals, and the economy will only worsen. In the following paragraphs you will learn what acid rain is, the effects it has on human life, animals, the economy, the economic costs, and what is being done to help to stop this problem. This topic is very important because acid rain effects everyone everywhere all over the world.

I. What is acid rain?

Acid rain is the combination of two chemicals released into the atmosphere. These chemicals are sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (Nox). Natural sources such as volcanoes, sea spray, rotting vegetation and plankton are all contributors to acid rain, but burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil which are referred to as dry emissions are largely to blame for more than half of the emissions into the world.2 Nationally, one hundred and twenty tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are emitted into the air each day.4

A. How is acid rain formed?

When the sulfur dioxide reaches the atmosphere, it oxidizes to first form a sulfate ion. It then becomes sulfuric acid when it joins with hydrogen atoms in the air and falls back down to earth, usually in the form of rain, snow, or fog.1 Oxidation occurs the most in clouds and heavily polluted air where other compounds such as ammonia and ozone help to catalyze the reaction, converting more sulphur dioxide to sulphuric acid. The following are the stoichiometric equations for the formation of sulphuric acid:

S (in coal) + O2 ? SO2
2 SO2 + O2 ? 2 SO3
SO3 + H2O ? H2SO4

Nitric oxide and nitric dioxide are also components of acid rain. Its sources are mainly from power stations and exhaust fumes. Like sulphur dioxide, these nitrogen dioxides also rise into the air and are oxidized in the clouds to form nitric acid. Through this diagram you can better understand how acid rain is formed and emitted into the earth:

II. Effects of acid rain

Acid rain causes problems in almost every aspect of the environment. Acid rain can have a devastating effect on aquatic life, crops, forests, buildings, and also human life.

A. The human environment

Acid rain has a multiplicity of effects in the human environment. The corrosion of limestone buildings in towns and cities is one such effect. The acid also eats through the pipes that channel water to the lakes. Far more insidious are the increasing incidents of lung cancer, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma attributed to breathing in the tiny particles of sulphur and other pollutants.2 Many people drink water everyday that is laced with these harmful chemicals without even knowing it.

B. The natural environment

Much of the early concerns over the effects of acid rain are on the trees. The concern is centered on the direct contact of the acid rain to the leaves of the trees. It was estimated that more then sixty five percent of trees are effected by acid rain.1 The rain scars the leaves, withers ferns and lichens, accelerates the death of coniferous needles, sterilizes seeds, and weakens the forest to a state that is vulnerable to disease infestation.3

The rate of forest growth in New Hampshire has declined eighteen percent between 1956 and 1965.3 Forests aren?t alone in the devastation. It has also been found that twenty thousand lakes have been acidified through the changes in the groundwater.1 The soil is receiving what seems to be an overdose of fertilizer or a large drenching of vinegar. Unfortunately the damage to the soil may not be reversible or repairable. On some croplands, tomatoes only grow to half of their full weight as well as other crop deformities. These problems not only effect the environment, but they also effect the economy.

III. Effects of acid rain on the economy

Because of acid rain, many fish have died. This reduces the ability of fish being caught and sold. People who rely on fishing for their income may find themselves without a job. Owners of farms may be unable to produce quality crops to be sold. With the continued deterioration of buildings, the economy will have to spend more money to repair such problems.

A. Economic costs of acid rain

It currently costs the American automobile industry