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Acid Rain

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Acid Rain – Save the Environment

Acid rain, or any other form of precipitation with high nitric and sulfuric acid levels is when the precipitation has a lower pH than natural unpolluted rainwater, 5.5 (National Geographic). Acid rain is the result of combustion of fossil fuels which releases acid chemicals into the air (Wysession, Michael). It is a problem in the world since it effects natural and man-made environments as well as other factors in negative ways.

The unpolluted water that rains down on us is always slightly acidic with a pH of around 5.6. This is because the rainwater from the clouds react with the CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) that is in the air. It is in the air due to that we convert the oxygen that we inhale into CO2 inside of our bodies, which we later exhale. This results in a solution called Carbonic Acid. (Wysession, Michael) Water | + | Carbon Dioxide | | Carbonic Acid | H20 | + | CO2 | | H2CO3 |
Rain counts as acid rain when it goes below the unpolluted rain pH, 5.6. The acidity of acid rain can be as low as 2.7 on the pH scale depending on the ratio of chemical acids and unpolluted rainwater. However, the usual pH of acid rain is around 4.0 which is more than 10 times more acidic than unpolluted rainwater. (Wysession, Michael)

Acid rain can be caused by natural sources such as volcanoes. However, the main cause of acid rain is when the acidic chemicals sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) are released into the air by the combustion of fossil fuels that contains sulfur and nitrogen. The combustion of fuels comes mainly from industries, gas/diesel/petrol driven vehicles, airplanes and other motors which runs on gas/diesel/petrol. The chemicals rise very far up in the atmosphere and react with the oxygen and the water to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4): 2SO2 | + | 2H2O | | H2CO3(g) | + | 2H2SO4 | and nitric acid (HNO3): 3NO2(g) | + | H2O | | 2HNO3(aq) | + | NO(g) | which later dissolves into the rainwater in the air. (Skoool.ie)

Since acid rain can be caused from natural sources, it has been around for as long as the earth has. However, it only began entering the atmosphere in large amounts when the Industrial Revolution broke out in the mid 1700’s. This was because this was the first time electric power came from burning coal, which is the main source of acid rain. Acid rain itself was not discovered until 1852 in Manchester, England when Robert Angus Smith discovered that the atmospheric pollution had an effect on the rain (Briney, Amanda). He wrote:

“It has often been observed that the stones and bricks of buildings, especially under projecting parts, crumble more readily in large towns where coal is burnt....I was led to attribute this effect to the slow but constant action of acid rain.” The problem of acid rain was not alerted in society until the 1960s; over 100 years after it was discovered. When The New York Times began to publish articles about the problems of acid rain in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire was when it gained significant public attention. The term Acid Rain was not used until 1972 (Briney, Amanda).

The effects of acid rain affect social, economical and environmental factors as well as others. (Skoool.ie) Acid rain has effects on the natural as well as the man-made environment. It also has a negative effect on the Human health.

The human health is not affected by walking or swimming in acid rain. However, the chemicals that cause the acid rain, SO2 and NOX can damage the human health. These acids in the rain are in fine particles. These particles can travel very long distances and travel deep into people lungs. Scientific studies have identified a relationship between the levels of fine particles and the risks of illness and death from heart and lung diseases, such as bronchitis and asthma (EPA). Too many acid rain particles is not good for the human body to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The environment is probably the factor which is most hurt from acid rain. As stated, acid rain affects both natural and made-made environment. Acid decomposition causes clay soils to release Aluminum and Magnesium which will further decrease the pH level in some areas.(EPA) If the pH level of a lake drops bellow 4.8, the animals and plants of the lake risk death due to the acidity. The forest is also a natural environment being damaged by acid precipitation. The acid falling onto the trees will not only make the trees loose their leaves, alter their bark and hinder their growth which will make them vulnerable to diseases, intense weather and insects but will also hurt the soil they are standing in (Briney, Amanda). The acidic water dissolves some of the nutrients and assisting mineral which the trees use to grow. As well as dissolving stabilizing nutrients the acidic water also releases substances such as Aluminum into the soil, which are toxic to the trees. The more acidic the water is, the more substances are released (EPA). The acids do not just harm trees, but other plants as well. Severe cases of this are happening in Eastern Europe where it is estimated that around half of Germany and Poland’s forests are harmed by acid rain in some aspect (Briney, Amanda).

The acidic water is also damaging the man-made environment. Although the acidic water can cause damage to a wide rage of materials, the most vulnerable include; carbon-steel, marble, paint, zinc, limestone and nickel. Since these materials are most often seen in buildings, statues, bridges, monuments, transportation vehicles, tombstones etc. the acid rain on man-made environment is most obviously seen in urban areas. The sulfuric acid particles in the acidic rain react with these materials and eats through the substance causing permanent damage to the material. The sulfuric acid also quickens the process of metal corrosion even though it is mainly caused by oxygen and moisture. (Effects of Acid Rain on Buildings)

The economical factor is based on the environmental factor. The forest is being harmed and the man-made creations are being damaged. These need maintenance. Fertilizers and limestone is needed to be bought so that the trees and plants have a chance to survive, while the man-made creations need new materials to fix the permanent damaged that has been made (Effects of Acid Rain on Buildings). The damage can at times not be fixed at all, and therefore, all of the money spent on creating the piece will have gone to waste. A lot of money will be used on attempting to save the damages caused by the acid rain. Some manufactures have decided on using acid-resistant paint on their transporting vehicles. This costs $5 for each new vehicle. Since around 12.2 million cars and trucks are sold each year in the US, this will add up to a cost of $61 million. This money could be used for so many different important situations. (EPA)

Science has allowed us to find ways to reduce the emissions but still be friendly to the environment. One way is to get energy from natural resources such as Eolic, Hydroelectric and Solar instead of burning coal, the only negative aspect is that this way to get energy is much more expensive than the combustion of coal. The use of alternative energy resources are becoming more popular around the world. Denmark is a good example of this; 20% out of the country’s energy is provided from wind turbines. This makes them 8th in the world on most used wind energy and one of the most efficient countries to use alternative energy. Because of this, Denmark does not suffer from environmental problems such as smog and pollution (Top 10 Countries Where Wind Turbines Are Used Most Efficiently). More and more governments around the world are also requiring that energy produces use special filters called scrubbers which filter away the sulfur dioxide so that as little as possible is released into atmosphere. They are also requiring that as many transporting vehicles as possible contain catalytic converters inside of them to reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides (Briney, Amanda).

Scientists have also found ways to reduce the effects of acid rain so that the environment will not be as damaged. One way is that we are adding limestone to soil affected by acid rain. Limestone is an alkaline material which is added to soil and increases the ability of the soil to act as a buffer against the acidity (EPA). Liming, or the act of adding limestone, is also added in water. CaCO3 (Calcium Carbonate) is added to the acidic water to create a neutralization process and reduces the acidity levels and partially prevents the toxic metals to be released by the acid rain. Many countries, such as Sweden and Norway have already applied these methods and are using them diligently. However, it is not common in the USA since it is a short-term solution due to fact that it does not reduce the acid rain itself. It is a very good method however to decrease the effects of acid rain and saving the environment since it is not expensive and it is not toxic. (What Is Acid Rain? // Chemistry II)

Every person can do a little change in his or her home everyday. Everyone can take action as individuals and not just rely on the government to fix the whole problem since the majority of the people on the planet are doing something, maybe not much, but something that affects the problem of acid rain in a negative way. If every person just made a small adjustment in his or her daily life, it would make a huge positive effect on the problem of acid rain. These adjustments would include; only using electricity when needed and turn it off when not in use, use public transportation, bikes or our own body rather than cars, airplanes and other transportation vehicle that release nitrogen oxides, when getting a car, be sure to buy one with low NOX emissions and maintain it properly, use energy efficient home supplies. (EPA)

There is nothing we can do to reduce the acid rain than to hope that scientist will come up with a solution in the near future to stop the problem completely so that the environment will not be harmed at all. What we can do though, is just keep doing everything we are doing today, but even more of it. More alternative energy sources, more Limestone, more small modifications in every person’s lifestyles. Another important thing we can do, is help inform each other about the issue of acid rain so that more people will be willing to be more dedicated to fix this serious problem. Together we can all make a change.

Acid rain had been a problem for a long time and people have always done something to decrease it ever since it was discovered. Acid rain is a problem in many factors, some including social – it affects peoples health – environmental – the acidic water is destroying land, water and soil – and economical – fixing the environmental problem and finding short term solutions to reduce the effects cost much money, time and knowledge of science. Science is very good in a way that it helps to find solutions for the acid rain problem. However, it is also bad since science is what found that the combustion of coal creates energy in a cheap way which is one of the major causes of acid rain. Today we are better than ever at solving the acid rain problem and are all on the right path. Luckily technology has allowed us to communicate all over the world so we can share our ideas with each other and help or maybe even inspire other countries. In the future I believe that there will be a solution created by scientist which will reduce the acid rain issue so much that the problem will not exist or be so small that it will not be a problem.

Bibliography

Wysession, Michael, David V. Frank, and Sophia Yancopoulos. Prentice Hall Physical Science: Concepts in Action. Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.

EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 17 May 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/>.

"Acid Rain." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 18 May 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/education/site_students/index.html>.

"Skoool.ie :: Exam Centre." Skoool.ie :: Exam Centre. Web. 17 May 2014. <http://www.skoool.ie/skoool/examcentre_jc.asp?id=4083>.

Briney, Amanda. "Acid Rain, The Causes, History, and Effects of Acid Rain." About.com Geography. About.com. Web. 15 May 2014. <http://geography.about.com/od/globalproblemsandissues/a/acidrain.htm>.

"What Is Acid Rain? // Chemistry II." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 18 May 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIWY-0Xqj_s>.

Casiday, Rachel, and Regina Frey. "Acid Rain." Acid Rain. Department of Chemistry, Washington University. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.chemistry.wustl.edu/~edudev/LabTutorials/Water/FreshWater/acidrain.html>.

"Acid Rain Facts, Acid Rain Information, Acid Rain Pictures, Acid Rain Effects - National Geographic." National Geographic. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/acid-rain-overview/>.

"Effects of Acid Rain on Buildings." Effects of Acid Rain on Buildings. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.air-quality.org.uk/12.php>.

"Top 10 Countries Where Wind Turbines Are Used Most Efficiently | Alternative Wind Energy from Mariah Energy Development." Alternative Wind Energy from Mariah Energy Development Top 10 Countries Where Wind Turbines Are Used Most Efficiently Updated Article with New Information Comments. Web. 19 May 2014. <http://www.mariah-energy.com/2011/01/top-10-countries-where-wind-turbines-are-used-most-efficiently-%E2%80%93-updated-article-with-new-information/>.
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