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February 28, 2011 | By:  Samantha Jakuboski
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Toxic Rain: The Effect of Acid Rain on the Environment

Two vacation places that I frequently visit all throughout the year are Southampton, Long Island, and the Adirondacks, New York. These places have become great destinations for me when I want to forget about my worries and relax. Whether I am skiing down Whiteface Mountain or boogie boarding the huge waves at Copper Beach, the placid atmosphere of these two places engulfs me and it is my way of relieving the stress that has accumulated during the past week or so. Even though these two places are far from major cities, I have recently become aware that parts of Long Island and the Adirondacks have been experiencing acid deposition for a couple of decades. This worries me, because if we humans do not do something about this quick, these places might become so polluted that we may never have the chance again to go back to the clean environments that we once enjoyed and treasured. I have known these two places since I was a few months old, and the thought that in future years they might not be the same for my grandchildren and their family is really upsetting.

So, what is acid deposition?

Acid deposition, also called acid rain, is rain or gases that have been polluted by high amounts of chemicals and acids in the atmosphere. It can result from decaying plants and animals or natural cataclysms, such as volcanoes, but the major cause of acid rain is the releasing of chemicals by humans. The main gases that lead to acid rain are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. When they come into contact with water and oxygen they turn into acids. Acid Deposition can be in the form of precipitation, which is called wet deposition, or it could be in the form of gases and microscopic particles floating the air, which is called dry deposition.

Scientists can measure how much acid is in rain or a body of water by using the pH scale. There are 14 numbers on it, ranging from 0 through 14. If a lake has a low pH, that tells us that there is a high amount of acid in the lake. If a lake has a pH 8 or above, it is alkaline, which means there is not a lot of acid in it. When a body of water has a pH of 7, it is neutral, since it is in the middle. New York State's rain pH level is between 4 and 4.5. That is 30 times more acidic than the normal level!

Remember: All bodies of water have acid in it, but the problem with acid rain is that too much acid is accumulating, and the effects are harmful.

Where does Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide come from?

One of the central sources of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide come from power plants. When power plants generate electricity, they are burning the fossil fuel, coal. Coal is sometimes dubbed as the dirty fuel source because when it is burned, it lets out sulfur, nitrogen, and other gases. The more coal we use, the more sulfur and nitrogen we are admitting into our atmosphere. Fumes and emissions from cars and other vehicles are also another source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

Harmful effects of acid deposition

Acid deposition is very dangerous for trees and forests because it rids the soil of very important nutrients trees need to survive, like magnesium and calcium. Without these vital nutrients, the trees are more vulnerable to infections and damage by cold weather and insects. Acid rain also allows aluminum to seep into the soil, and with too much aluminum in the soil, the trees have a very hard time collecting water. Acid rain is even thought to destroy leafs' outer-coat and when it finally wears down, the acid can make its way into the tree, which prevents photosynthesis from taking place. Photosynthesis makes food and energy for the plant, and without it, the plant or tree dies.

Not only are plants affected by acid deposition, but humans are too. If we breathe in the infinitesimal acid particles, we are prone to getting lung and respiratory problems and diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis (long-term), and pneumonia. Just in the United States and Canada alone, there were 1520 visits to the emergency room because of dry deposition. Yet, if you swim in a body of water with a high acidity level, nothing will happen to your body.

Acid Rain proposes a very harmful affect on the ecosystems as well. The acidity in the water can cause many fish and sea life to die, and that can throw off the whole food-chain. A test was done and the results, which were published in 1990, showed that most of the lakes in the Adirondack area had low pH levels and that the lakes with these low levels had no fish.

What is the United States doing to help the issues of acid disposition?

In 1985, the Clean Coal Technology Program was established to help make the burning of coal "cleaner." Four billion dollars have been donated by the coal industry and two billion dollars by the federal government to help with this goal. There are many ways coal can become cleaner, such as crushing it and washing it before using it, because by doing so some of the sulfur is being removed. Companies also install flue gas desulfurization systems, otherwise known as a scrubber, which have the potential to remove about 90% of the sulfur dioxide before its gets emptied out into the atmosphere. This system works by spraying a limestone and water mixture on the pipe where the smoke from the coal is released. When the lime meets the smoke, with the sulfur in it, the smoke is absorbed into it and becomes a gooey liquid or powder and the most of the sulfur is trapped. You can then recycle the liquid or powder to make objects such as concrete blocks. These are just some of the ways coal can cause less pollution, and there are many more ways.

In 1990, Congress passed the Clean Air Act. This act stated that the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, should do their part and help protect the air we breathe, so the Acid Rain Program was initiated. This program strives hard to achieve both environmental and health satisfaction by limiting the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide admitted into the air by power plants.

If we reduce air pollution, acid rain might become a thing of the past! Think of a place that you really love to go and picture it polluted in future years. Not a nice thought, right? This is why we have to try our best to protect the air that we live and breathe every day!

Image source: Brian Adams (via Flickr)


"1990 Interpretive Report: Executive Summary." Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation.

"Acid Rain." NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Acid Rain." Oracle Education Foundation.

"All About Coal." American Coal Foundation.

"Clean Air Act." United States Environmental Protection Agency.

"What Causes Acid Rain?" United States Environmental Protection Agency.

"What is Acid Rain?" United States Environmental Protection Agency.

"Why is Acid Rain Harmful?" United States Environmental Protection Agency.

March 12, 2011 | 03:48 AM
Posted By:  Joseph Bronzo
This Is a great post sam I was so intrigued I had to do some further research. I found out the according to the Us EPA acid rain puts a strain on aquatic life's populations and also weakens an ecosystems biodiversity. If an ecosystem undergoes strains such as loss in population and loss of biodiversity, that particular ecosystem is in grave danger. Biodiversity by the way is important in an ecosystem because it ensures the production of animals. for more info on the devestating effects of acid rain...
March 11, 2011 | 07:53 PM
Posted By:  Taylor Fawcett
Great post Sam! I find it so unfortunate that rain is more acidic and less helpful for the environment. Acid rain kill our fresh water supply and creates even more polution than our environment can afford. It is important to also acknowledge the human health affects acidity has on us. The harm from acid rain isn't direct. Everyday things like walking in acid rain, or swimming in an acid lake, is no more dangerous than walking or swimming in clean water. However, the pollutants that cause acid rain: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides do damage human health. For further affects on human health due to acide rain:
March 10, 2011 | 09:00 PM
Posted By:  Cartland Zhou
Nice post, Sam! Acid rain is definitely one of the serious problems in our environment. I was worried about it so I did some research about what we can do individually about acid rain. Basically it’s just what we can do to reduce the other bad environmental conditions. For example, we should turn off lights, computers, and other appliances when you're not using them. It is just a little thing that we can do for the earth that we live, but if everyone is doing it, it makes a huge difference to it. Also people are notice the bad conditions we can in. and there are people who is trying to get out of this situation. I know that EPA scientists and their colleagues must assess the reductions to make sure they are achieving the results that Congress anticipated when it created the Acid Rain Program in 1990. I hope we will really start to protect the earth, the only planet we can live for now, and the mother of every live-thing.
March 09, 2011 | 02:30 AM
Posted By:  Emily D'Arco
Wow, Sam, what a great post! It's so sad that rain has become more acidic, but I think with much effort and lots of attention, we can reduce the amount of acidity in our rain. Acid rain affects us in our every day lives, in that it pollutes our rivers and oceans and has caused the reduction of the amount of fresh and clean water on our earth today. Look at this link for more specific details!
March 08, 2011 | 11:56 PM
Posted By:  Aurora Tormey
This is a really great post Sam! I really like how you include in your post what other companies are doing to help decrease the amount of acid in our water systems.
I did some further research and found another surprising contributer to acid rain. Snow, when it accumulates over time, it also releases extremely high amounts of acidity when the now melts. This really harms our environment severely, and I now know what steps to take to improve this situation thanks to jessica's comment.
March 08, 2011 | 03:35 AM
Posted By:  Jessica Khrakovsky
Nice post, Sam! I remember that when I was much younger, an older girl kept telling me that whenever there is acid rain, my hair would fall out. Obviously I know that's not true now that I know so much more about acid rain! However, acid rain is a huge problem anyway. It damages our environment and is not healthy for the Earth. I believe that everyone should make an effort and attempt to prevent acid rain. I researched some ways in which everyday people can help stop acid rain and I found that you can help by doing the simplest of things. Some methods are minimal use of cars ( you can walk, carpool, or use public buses instead), try to reduce your usage of heaters and air conditioners, conserve water in every way you can, and more. For more information of how you can reduce the amount of acid in rain, visit the website below:
March 08, 2011 | 12:41 AM
Posted By:  Alice Harrison
Great post! A few years ago for my science fair project, I did an experiment where I attempted to simulate the harmful effects that acid rain has on our environment. In my experiment, I grew Cat Grass seeds, separating them into a few groups. The control group of plants was watered with pure water, while other groups were watered with water mixed with different levels of acid. After a few weeks of growing the plants, the ones being watered with the solution containing the highest content of acid seemed very unhealthy--almost completely brown in color and unable to stand up straight. As the level of acidity in the solutions that the different groups were being water with decreased, I found that the plants appeared to be more and more healthy. As one might have guessed, the control group seemed to be the healthiest or the most green and straight. Although my experiment may seem somewhat obvious, it goes to show how much of a harmful effect acid rain can have on plants in our environment.
March 02, 2011 | 11:53 PM
Posted By:  Emilio Berton
This is a very interesting post because while I have heard of acid rain, I never thought it could be THIS harmful. Like you said, all bodies of water have some level of acidity, but too much can be harmful. I was left wondering about what those effects might be. I found that to much acid in soil can move into bodies of water and other than bring the acidity, it can also transport aluminum which is extremely toxic to aquatic life. Acid rain in large quantities could devastate populations and the cause of it is another reason why newer forms of energy are so important, they would have much smaller effects on the environment because they use things already vital to the environment like wind and the sun's power!
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