Environmental Impact Of Acid Rain

Project and Seminar Material for Agricultural Engineering AE

Environmental Impact Of Acid Rain


Acid rain is one of the major environmental problems in the United States. It is caused by a combination of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen oxides (NO) resulting from fossil fuel combustion. This paper focuses on the effects of acid rain on rocks, building materials, and human health. The paper also discusses how acid rain affects human health and what changes could be made to the air pollution sources that cause the problem.

Chapter One


1.1 Overview

Acid rain is a wide spread term used to describe all forms of acid precipitation (rain, snow, hail and fog) Atmospheric pollutants particularly oxides of sulphur, oxides of Nitrogen and carbonic acid can cause precipitation to become more acidic when converted to sulphuric and Nitric acids hence the term acid rain.

Acid deposition, acid rain and acid precipitation all relate to the chemistry of air pollution and moisture in the atmosphere. Scientists generally use the term acid deposition but all three terms relate to the same issue (acid precipitation, Acid deposition and Acid rain). The term acid rain was first used by (Robert Augus Smith, 1870) a scientist working in the 1870s. The problem of acid rain is hence not a new one but the nature of the problem has changed from being a local problem for towns and cities to being an international problem (Johnson, 1972).

In Smith’s (1870) time, acid rain fall was both in towns and cities whilst today pollution can be transported thousand of kilometers due to the introduction of tall chimneys dispersing pollutants high into the atmosphere. Precipitation is naturally acidic because of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels such as (coal, oil and gases) produces sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen oxides which can increase the acidity of rain or other precipitation. Sources of sulphur dioxide and oxide of Nitrogen may be natural such as volcanoes, oceans, biological decay and forest fires, or may arise from combustion sources. The increasing demand for electricity and the rise in the number of motor vehicles in recent decades has meant that emissions of acidifying pollutants have increased dramatically from human sources particularly since (1950s).

Emissions of such pollutants are heavily concentrated in the northern hemisphere, especially in Europe and North America in 1970s. As a result precipitation is generally acidic in these countries. In the 1970s and 1980s Scandinavian countries began to notice the effect of acid deposition on trees and freshwater. Much of the pollution causing this damage was identified as being transported from other more polluting countries. Acid rain became an international concern.

Acid rain is determined by the hydrogen ion content (H+) of the rain water pH. This scale was invented by a Danish Scientist in (1909) it is called Sorenson. The pH scale ranges from O, which is strongly acid, to 14 which is strongly alkaline the scale point 7 being neutral. The pH scale is logarithmic rather than linear, so there is a ten fold increase in acidity with each pH unit, such that rainfall with pH5 is ten times more acidic than pH6 rainfall with pH4 is 100 time more acidic than pH6 and rainfall with pH3 is 1000 time more acidic than pH6 (Baso, 1996).

Acid rain became particularly prominent as a media issue during the (1980s). However during the (1970s) many countries started to notice changes in fish population in lakes and damage to certain trees. By the late 1970s concern led to international effort to identify the cause and effect of long range (transboundary). Transport of air pollutants, and thus during the (1980s) much research was conducted in Europe and Northern America.

1.2 What Is Acid Rain

Acid rain is a broad term referring to a mixture of wet and dry deposition (deposited material) from the atmosphere containing higher than normal amount of nitric and Sulfuric acid, (Berresheim, 1995). The precursors, or chemical forerunners of acid rains formation result from both natural sources, such as volcanoes and decaying vegetation, and man-made sources, primarily emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen oxide (NO2) resulting from fossil fuel combustion.

In the United States, roughly 2/3 of all SO2 and ¼ of all NO2 come from electric power generation that relies on burning fossil fuel, like coal.

Acid rain occurs when these gases react in the atmosphere with water vapour, oxygen, and other chemicals to form various acidic compounds. The result is a mild solution of Sulfur acid and Nitric acid. When Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen oxide are released from power plants and other sources, prevailing winds blow these compounds across states and national borders, sometimes over hundred of miles.

Net Deposition

Wet deposition refers to acidic rain, fog and snow if the acid chemicals in the air are blown into areas where the weather is wet. The acids can fall to the ground in the form of rain, snow, fog or mist. As this acidic water flows over and through the ground it affects a variety of plants and animals.

The series of the effects depends on several factors including how acidic the water is, the chemistry and buffering capacity of the soil involved and the type of fish, trees and other living things that rely on the water.

Dry Deposition

In areas where the weather is dry, the acid chemicals may become in corporated into dust or smoke and fall to the ground through dry deposition sticking to the ground building, homes, cars and trees. Dry deposition gases and particles can be washed from these surfaces by rain storms, leading to increased runoff. This runoff water makes the resulting mixture more acidic. About half of the acidity in the atmosphere falls back to earth through dry deposition.

1.3 Causes Of Acid Rain

Acid rain is mainly caused by these substances that are being released into the air: (Hottmann, 1982).

Carbon dioxide (Co2): Carbon dioxide is released by burning coal, oil and natural gas, if you inhale carbon dioxide, then since it is toxic, it can cause you to have to breathe more than usual, unconsciousness and other serious health problems.

Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide is released by burning gasoline, oil and wood. When carbon monoxide enter your body, it goes into the blood-stream and when this happens, it will slow down the delivery of oxygen to the rest of the body causing dizziness, headaches, fatique and ultimately death, if the situation is not arrested quickly enough.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): These are the chemical that are used in industry, refrigeration, air-conditioning system and consumer products. Whenever CFCs are released into the air, they reduce the stratospheric ozone layer. The stratospheric ozone layer protects earths surface from the harmful rays of the sun.

Lead: Lead is released by house and car paint as well as the manufacturing of lead batteries, fishing lures, certain parts of bullets some ceramic ware, water pipes and fixtures. In young children, lead can cause nervous system damage and learning problems.

Nitrogen oxides (NO): Nitrogen oxides are released into the air by burning fuels such as gasoline and coal.

When Nitrogen oxides combine with Volatile Organic Compounds, they can cause breathing difficulty in people who have asthma, coughs in children and general illness in your respiratory system.

Ozone: Ozone is released by motor vehicles, industries, burning coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels, and in the chemicals that are in hairspray and paints. When ozone is close to the ground, it can cause chest pain, irritated respiratory tract, or persistent cough, can make unable to take deep breaths, and can make you more likely to get lung infections.

Sulphure dioxide (SO2): Sulphure dioxide are released by burning coal, paper production and melting metal sulphure dioxide can harm vegetation, harm metal and cause lung problems, which include breathing problems and permanent lung damage.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): VOCs are released into the air by burning gasoline, wood, coal, or natural gas, solvents, plants, glues and other products that are used at work or at home.

Empirical Measurement of Acid Rain (Acidity)

The scale is used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of an aqueous solution and is determined by the hydrogen ion content (H+). This scale was invented by a Denish Scientist called Sorenson in (1909). The scale ranges from zero, which is strongly acid to 14 which is strongly alkaline. The scale point 7 being neutral example of solution with differing pH values include carbattery acid (pH) lemon juice (pH2). Natural Lemon Juice (pH2) bear (pH4) Natural rain (pH5-6) milk (pH6) washing-up liquid (pH7) seawater (pH5) milk of Magnesia (pH10) and Ammonia (pH12).

The pH scale is logarithmic rather than linear and so there is a ten fold increase in acidity with each pH unit, such that rainfall with pH is ten time more acidic than pH6, rainfall with pH4 is 100 time more acidic than pH6 and rainfall with pH3 is 1000 time more acidic than pH6. (Geophy, 1992).

Rainfall acidity is measured in pH units normalor “unpolluted” rainfall has a pH of 5-6 this is slightly acidic due to the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which form weak carbonic acid in water it is not uncommon for acidified rain water to have a pH of 4 about 30 time as acidic as normal rain water.

1.4 Objectives of the Study

  1. To study the effects of acid rain on rocks and building materials.
  2. To highlight the chemical reaction of acid rain on building materials.
  3. To highlight the effects of acid rain on living organisms.
  4. To highlight the effects of acid rain on human health.
  5. To recommend remedial measures containing the effect of acid rain.

Chapter Five

Reduction and Control of Acid Rain in the Environment.

5.1 Reduction:

Acid rain can best be curtailed by reducing the amount of sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen oxides released by power plants, motorized vehicle and factories. This simplest way to cut these emissions is to use less energy from fossil fuels. Individuals can help. Every time a consumer buys an energy-efficient appliance adds insulation to a house, or take a bus to work, he or she conserves energy and as a result fights acid rain.

Another way to cut emissions of sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen oxides is by switching to cleaner-burning fuels. For instance, coal can be high or low in sulfur, and some coal contains sulfur in a form that can be washed out easily before burning. By using more of the low sulphur or cleanable types of coal, electric utility companies and other industries can pollute less. The gas line and diesel oil that run most motor vehicles can also be formulated to burn more cleanly, producing less nitrogen oxide pollution. Clean-burning fuels such as natural gas are being used increasingly in vehicles; Natural gas contains almost no sulphur and produces very low nitrogen oxides.

5.2 Control of Acid Rain in the Environment

There are several ways to reduce acid rain according to (Kosobud, 2001) more properly called Acid deposition, ranging from societal changes to individual action. It is critical that acid deposition be reduced, not only in United State and Canada, but also throughout the world to preserve the integrity of natural habitats as well as to control damage to more made structures.

Additionally, individuals and society as a whole can participate in various efforts to help reduce acid deposition, e.g.

  1. Clean up smokes tack and exhaust pipe.
  2. Understand acid deposition’s cause and effects.
  3. Use alternative energy sources.
  4. Restore a damaged environment.
  5. Take action as individuals.
1. Clean Up Smokestack And Exhaust Pipes

There are several options for reducing SO2, emission including using coal containing less sulphur, washing the coal, and using devices called “Scrubbers” to chemically remove the SO2 from the gases leaving the smokestack.
Power plants can also switch fuels – for burning natural gas creates much less SO2 than burning coal certain approaches will also have the additional benefit of reducing other pollutants such as mercury and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Understanding there “co-benefits” has become important in seeking cost-effective air pollution reduction strategies, by (Galloway, 1984) finally, power plants can use technologies that do not burn fossil fuels. Each of these options, however, has its own costs and benefits there is no single universal solution.

2. Understand Acid Depositions Cause And Effect’s

According to Johnson (1972), To understand acid deposition’s causes and effects and track changes in the environment, scientists from EPA, state governments, and academic study acidification process. They collect air and water samples and measure them for various characteristics such as pH and chemical composition and they research the effects of acid deposition on human-made materials such as marble and bronze. Finally scientists work to understand the effects of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen oxides (NO) the pollutants that cause acid deposition and contribute to particulate matter on human health.

To solve the acid rain problem, people need to understand how acid rain causes damage to the environment. The also need to understand what changes could be made to the air pollution sources that cause the problem the answers to these questions help leader make better decisions about how to control air pollution and therefore how to reduce-or even eliminate acid rain.

Since there are many solutions to the acid rain problem leaders have a choice of which options or combination of options are best.

3. Use of Alternative Energy Sources

There are other sources of electricity besides fossil fuels. They include: nuclear power, hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy. And solar energy, of these, nuclear and hydropower are used most widely in the United States, while wind, solar and geothermal energy have not yet been harnessed on a large scale enough scale to make them economically feasible alternative (Spyros, 1998). There are also alternative energies available to power automobiles including; natural gas powered vehicle, battery-power car, fuel cells, and combination of alternative and gas line powered vehicles.

All sources of energy have environmental costs as well as benefits, some type of energy are more expensive to produce than others, which means that not all American can afford all of them. Nuclear power, hydropower and coal are the cheapest forms of energy today, but advancements in changes in technologies and regulatory development may change this in the future. All of these factors must be weighed when deciding which energy source to use today and which to invest in for tomorrow.

4. Restore a Damaged Environment – (Bormaun, 1974).

However, there are some things that people can do to bring back Lakes and streams more quickly. Limestone or lime (a naturally occurring basic compound) can be added to acidic Lakes to “cancel out” the acidity.

This process called liming, has been used extensively in Norway and Sweden but is not used very often in the United state liming tends to be expensive, has to be done repeatedly to keep the water from returning to its acidic condition, and is considered a short-term remedy in only specific areas, rather than an effort or reduce or prevent pollution. Furthermore, it does not solve the broader problems of change in soil chemistry and forest health in the watershed, and it does nothings to address visibility reductions, materials damage and risk to human health. However, liming does often permit fish to remain in a Lakes, allowing the native population to survive in place until emissions reductions reduces the amount of acid deposition in the area.

5. Take Action as Individuals

It may seem like there is not much that one individual can do to stop acid deposition. However, like many environmental problems. Acid deposition is caused by the cumulative actions of millions of individual people. Therefore, each individual can also reduce their contribution to the problem and become part of the solution. (Likens, 2006) Individuals can contribute directly by conserving energy, since energy production cause the largest portion of the acid deposition problem.

So the individual can stop acid deposition in a environment.

  1. Turnoff lights, computer and other appliances when are not in used.
  2. Use energy-efficient appliances; lighting, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators and washing machines etc.
  3. Only use electric appliances when needed.
  4. Keep your thermostat at 68o F in the winter and 72o F in the summer. You can turn it even lower in the winter and higher in the summer when you are away from home.
  5. Buy vehicle with low or NO2 emissions, and that should properly maintain your vehicle.

5.3 Recommendation

  1. That Governments need to spend more money on pollution control even if it dose mean an increase in prices of electricity.
  2. That Government needs to invest in researching different ways to reduce energy.
  3. Greater subsidies of public transport by the government to encourage people to use public transport rather than always. Traveling by car.
  4. All energy sources have different benefits and costs and all these have to be weighed up before any government decides which of them it is going to use.
  5. Governments should introduce walking; cycling and sharing cars all will reduce the pollution from vehicle.

5.4 Conclusion

In October 1998, US. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan testified before congress on acid rain. A long time champion of the issue, Moynihan stated that. As far back as the 1960s, fishermen in the Adirondacks began to complain about more than “the big one that got away”. Fish, once abundant in the pristine, remote Adirondack Lakes, were not just getting harder to catch. They were gone”.

The issue of acid rain emerged in the United State in the mid-1970s at the time, little was known about the magnitude and distribution of acid rain or about it impacts on terrestrial (Land-based) and aquatic ecosystems. However, many believed that acid rain and pollutants that caused it posed a threat to forest, aquatic life, crops, and structure (e.g. Building), cultural artifacts (e.g. statues and monuments), and human heath.

Since the 1970s, acid rain has been addressed in the United State through hundreds of millions of dollars of research, passage of laws, and implementation of regulatory programs.

However, Senator Moynihan’s 1998 remark is stark testimony to the fact that acid continues to have a negative effect on natural resources, and addressing the problem in an enduring public policy dilemma.

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