When it comes to the issue of climate change and global warming, there are so many “facts” thrown at us, often conflicting, it’s difficult to really understand what is going on, but something that is agreed on are the facts about acid rain. It doesn’t seem to be talked about so much these days. It has been accepted it is a factor in the climate change we are seeing but focus has moved more on to carbon footprints. We are however, still polluting our atmosphere, so we should still be aware of some of the facts about acid rain. Here goes!
1. What is Acid Rain
It’s pointless writing facts about acid rain unless we understand what it is. Interestingly, one of the things to know about acid rain is that it is not a modern phenomenon. It first became known in the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, but it only gained global attention and its actual name “acid rain” in the 1970s. This is a scientific term that for once is not ambiguous, confusing or even so complicated that we normal folks can’t understand it. Quite simply, acid rain is precipitation that is acidic. Its acidity is created by pollutant gases, such as nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury oxide mixing with the water particles in the atmosphere.
2. What Causes Acid Rain?
Although the aforementioned gases exist in “normal” air, the amount is augmented by the burning of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum), volcanic eruptions and rotting vegetation creating levels where they alter the balance of the composition of the air. So, all those things that are now being quoted as contributing to global warming and climate change also create acid rain.
Just how acidic is acid rain? On the pH scale pure water is completely neutral and is given a value of 7. Generally, the Earth’s water has a value of 5.5 on the pH scale – i.e. it is acidic, due to the natural absorption of carbon dioxide. Acid rain comes in at an average of 4.3. This is equivalent to vinegar, orange juice and yeast.
4. Is Acid Rain “wet”?
Actually no – not all acid rain is wet! One of the interesting things to know about acid rain is that any form of precipitation can become acidic. So we have all the wet forms which includes rain, sleet, hail, and snow. There are damp forms such as fog, mist and smog. And then there’s the dry form - acid dust and acid smoke.
5. Is Acid Rain Harmful to Humans?
Well, firstly let’s clear this up – no-one is going to do an Elphaba and melt if they get caught in acid rain (remember The Wizard of Oz?). You won’t notice any difference between standard precipitation and acidic forms. Acid rain is practically identical in terms of taste, look, and feel but, there might be a very (barely traceable) difference in smell if there is a heavy sulfur content. The main issue of concern for health in humans relates to the inhalation of pollutant compounds in acid rain. The pollutants have potential to cause respiratory diseases including asthma, lung disease and heart diseases.
6. What about Other Stuff?
No – your car will not melt. But, it will be damaged if it is exposed long enough. Acid rain can cause damage to paint jobs and special features such as chrome plating. Just like rust, if there is even a microscopic hole, the corrosive elements can get under the paintwork and into the metal, as well as being detrimental to the paint itself. If you’re concerned about your precious vehicle, make sure your paint job is acid resistant. It’s also not just cars. If you know your basic science, you will also know that acid is corrosive to all sorts of substances, so essentially anything susceptible that is exposed to acid is at risk – this includes anything made of stone or metal – i.e. our buildings, railway tracks, airplanes, pipes and bridges.
7. Acid Rain and the Environment
The most pertinent facts about acid rain relate to what it does to the environment. While we are obviously concerned about the impact it can have on human health, essentially our primary concern has to be the environment because that is what supports life on Earth, including our own. Essentially, acid rain upsets the natural balance of every environment. Forests, rivers, oceans, agricultural land, aquifers (water tables) and the air we breathe are all affected by the pollutants in acid rain. I have looked for statistics and facts about acid rain and specific examples of environmental damage and there is a mass of them so what I have done is just picked upon one section from china.org.cn which corroborates other sources. It says “According to the statistics available, acid rain has led to the death of 1 million hectares of forest in middle Europe and some 9,000 in northern Italy. In Sweden, more than 20,000 lakes are void of aquatic life and in Norway, fish and shrimp no longer exist in some 260 lakes. In 1980, 8,500 Canadian and at least 1,200 American lakes were measured as acidified and thus became “dead lakes” where no life prevailed”.
Let’s end on some good facts about acid raid. It is a recognized problem and most countries have programs in place – particularly for the protection of water and forest environments. There are also global agreements linked into the whole issue of climate and atmospheric change. What are your thoughts? Are we doing enough?