Acid Rain: Can It Be Stopped?

by Yvette Osio

What is acid rain?

Acid rain looks like any other kind of rain, but it is very harmful because is the buildup of a wet and dry mixture that is collected in the atmosphere. This mixture contains excessive amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids. It does not only spreed as rain, but also as acidic fog, mist, and even snow.  This is wet buildup. On the other hand, dry deposition chemicals are spread by dust or smoke.

What causes it?

When sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides rise into the atmosphere they reach the water and oxygen molecules (chemically react with them) and just like regular rain, when the clouds fill up they drop this harmful acidic rain. I believed that the causes of acidic rain only came from man made objects, but this is not the case. There are harmful chemical released by natural sources such as volcanoes and decaying vegetation. Man made sources are a lot more common especially those that create energy through the burning of fossil fuels. Electric power generation is one of the biggest burners of coal which is what generates electricity and a lot of acidic chemicals.

How does it affect our environment?

Acid rain causes a great effect on Earth and the most impacted is our natural environment. Trees with high elevations (and closer to to the atmosphere) have been impacted greatly. The leftovers that fall to the ground can eventually create a path to all sources of water like lakes and streams. Most of the time these waters uphold pH levels that can range from 6-8 pH units. This number starts to go down (more acidic) when the bodies of water can not buffer against acidic chemicals to neutralize it. But it's not just about the bodies of water, it is also about the living organisms living in it.

There are certain fish that can be completely killed off by acidic rain, but there are others who suffer the reduction of bodily functions and because of this they are not able to take the measures to survive. When the water reaches 5 pH units it does not only affect the living fish, but also those who have been unborn. Fish eggs can not hatch under these conditions which means it could eventually lead to a huge decrease in population of some species.

How can we fix it?

Acid rain has had a great effect on our environment, and so far it is obvious that there needs to be a reduction in SO2 emissions. In order to achieve this we need to use coal containing less sulfur, washing the coal we use, using scrubbers to clean SO2, or completely replacing the coal with natural gases. Something else that would be smart to do would be to keep using catalytic converters to reduce the amount of NO2 that is emitted into the air.

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