Acid rain can be a big worry in the modern world. Caused by pollutants combining with the water in clouds (which then falls as rain), it can wreak havoc on the natural environment, population health, and man-made features alike. But don’t worry, there are things you can do to prevent and reduce it.
What is acid rain?
Acid rain is caused by certain chemical pollutants in the air combining with cloud water, meaning that when the rain falls from these clouds, it is acidic. It is a type of acid deposition – but it isn’t the only type. Wet acidic deposition occurs when rain, sleet, fog, or snow becomes more acidic than normal.
Alternately, dry deposition can also happen – it is where gases and dust particles become acidic, through exposure to acidic chemicals. Both wet and dry types of acidic depositions are carried by the wind, sometimes for incredibly long distances. Acid depositions will fall on buildings, cars, plants, and trees, and can even make whole lakes acidic (which has a massive impact on the ecosystem).
Why is acid rain such a big problem?
As we have said, acid rain can fall far away from the place it was created, so environments that do not produce pollution (such as a forest, a small village, or a lake), can still be harmed by acid rain that is the result of pollutants released by power plants, or by combustion engines. Acid rain can wreak absolute havoc all over the environment. We will discuss a few big ways that acid rain can impact a biome, but it is, but no means limited to this list.
- Acid rain can cause human health problems = pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can cause respiratory diseases in people, or can worsen ones that already exist. For example, conditions like asthma or chronic bronchitis will worsen with exposure to acid rain, as the rain causes tiny acidic airborne particles, which get into people’s lungs. Acid rain can also result in ground-level ozone, which can cause numerous health issues when breathed in.
- Acid rain harms trees and forests = acidic water will seep into the ground, and then will dissolve important nutrients, like magnesium or calcium, which are integral to the tree’s health. Acid rain also creates aluminum, which can make it difficult for plants to absorb water out of the ground. These effects are felt particularly strongly by trees that are at a higher altitude, such as spruce or fir trees, as they are at a greater risk for clouds, fog, rain, and snow. The nutrient loss that is a result of acid rain makes forests more prone to infections, insects, and damage from cold weather.
- Acid rain damages rivers, lakes, and streams = in a world without pollution or acid rain, lakes and streams should have a pH level of 6.5 (which is just on the acidic side of neutral). However, across the US, bodies of water have much lower pH levels. This increase in acidity can be deadly to aquatic life forms, like rainbow trout, mayflies, frogs, and phytoplankton.
What can you do?
On a personal level
Though it can feel as though many environmental problems are too big for just one person to have an impact on, but you can become part of the solution when it comes to acid rain. When you understand that pollutants are the root cause of acid rain, it becomes clear that the way to help is to reduce the quantity of pollutants you produce. There are two main ways that you can do this – by reducing your energy consumption, and by minimizing the amount that you travel.
Conserving energy reduces the amount of pollutants released. You can achieve this by turning off your lights, and switching off electrical appliances at the plug when not in use, limiting the use of air conditioners and central heating, and turning down the thermostat when your house is not in use.
Cars are a massive contributor to acid rain pollution, so you can try to find other methods of transport that decrease our overreliance on fossil fuels. This can take the form of public transport, carpools, bikes, or walking, so that you reduce your emissions. You can also swap your fuels over to renewable sources – like solar, wind, and water-powered energy. Electric cars will help to reduce your carbon footprint and do your bit.
On a policy level
Personal actions aren’t the only thing that we can do to prevent or reduce incidences of acid rain. You can also use your voting power to contribute to the fight against acid rain. Vote for candidates and parties that are taking definite political action on pollution and environmental destruction.
Look for candidates that have a track record of taking action on acid rain is a good idea, in the USA, Congress passed a law called the Clean Air Act Amendment in 1990, which put an upper limit on the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that power plants can release into the air. Look for candidates that supported and campaigned for this. Also, look for politicians that support the scientific advancements being made – through making power plants do things that reduce their pollutant emissions. This can be through mechanisms like ‘washing’ the coal that they use to rid it of some sulfur dioxides it contains, or the installation of apparatus known as ‘scrubbers’, which remove pollutants from the gases that are leaving the smokestack (the big chimneys you see at power plants).
Candidates that are promoting a switch away from fossil fuel to renewable sources of energy is also a good plan – renewables are a good alternative to fossil fuels as they produce far less pollution. Cleaner cars are also integral to reducing acid rain, so politicians that have campaigned for increasing the proportion of electric cars on the road, or has supported policy that increases the number of catalytic converters (which is a piece of automobile equipment used to reduce nitrogen oxide released by cars).