An Analysis of the Issues of Acid Rain

In recent years, a great amount of attention has been focused on environmental issues. Nightly we are informed of yet another creature in danger of extinction. Still, despite this increased awareness, the problem remains. One facet of this overwhelming dilemma is the problem of acid rain. Pollution has caused acid rain, which is destroying the ecosystem. Acid rain refers to all types of precipitation -rain, snow, sleet, hail and fog that have a pH of less than 5.6. Pollution caused acid rain is destroying the ecosystem, but today new methods have been developed to deal with this danger to our society and earth. “Acid Rain has been called the single most important environmental threat all over the world, and many are seeking solutions" (Luoma12). The number of lakes and ponds that are actually considered to be acidic is startling. The numbers are in the hundreds just in the Adirondack region of New York. For example, "Big Moose Lake is also acidified that swimmers have come out of the water with bloodshot eyes"(Stewart15). Lakes and ponds similar to Big Moose Lake are all over. They have become devoid of all life including the aquatic plants. What areas can be affected by acid rain is based soley on its buffering capacity. The buffering capacity is based on how much the ground can help neutralize the acid. Most of the Eastern United States and Canada are covered by Granite, which does not help buffer the pH. Many regions are also mountainous and it is too steep for the rain to actually soak down and be neutralized. This is the major problem that is hurting many of the waterways around the Adirondack Mountain Region. However acid rain isn't just a problem in the United States. Several other countries have recorded acidic pH readings such as Canada, England and Norway. With acid rain becoming a worldwide environmental problem many scientists are looking for solutions on how we can prevent it, or cure the existing problems we are currently facing. To understand the possible solutions to the problem we must first examine the causes. Acid rain is caused by a number of factors. It can be blamed mainly on large local burning Factories in the Midwestern United States.

Coal burning and steel smelting factories have been pouring pollutants into the atmosphere for years. These factories emit tons of sulfur into the air everyday. This goes up into the atmosphere and turns into sulfuric acid which eventually falls in the form of acid precipitation. In the past, the environment has been able, to a certain extent , filter out some of man's damage and cleanse itself. Unfortunately, the rate at which Nitrogen dioxide and Sulfuric dioxide have been dumped into the environment far exceeds the ability of nature to deal with and eliminate these chemicals. When did all this begin? Much of the increase of pollution can be found in the 18th century. As society moved into the industrial revolution in Europe and the United Stated, coal burning was greatly increased(Stopping 1). Even as man took his greatest steps forward in his search for improved output, technology took huge leaps backward for care of Earth. With new inventions like the gas engine more and more sulfur dioxide is dumped into the atmosphere everyday. the burning of fossil fuels is the number one cause of sulfur dioxide pollution in the world. When the Sulfur dioxide released from the big factories reach the air, then combines with Nitrogen oxide to form an acid compound. This then combines with water and falls down to the ground creating acid precipitation. Thus far we have established that these elements are let into the atmosphere, but how do they travel through our atmosphere? For one thing, Sulfur and Nitrogen oxides are carried by mother nature. That's right weather determines how far these emissions will travel through the air.

On days with a low-front sweeping through the area, these emissions are able to travel hundreds of miles, sometimes even thousands. They are easily moved through the air because of the high wind speeds until they are combined with water and form acidic precipitation. However, how they reach our atmosphere is also very important. Large smokestacks from big fossil fuel burning factories are the leading cause of how Sulfur dioxide reaches the environment. These tall smokestacks reach high into the air, so when the emissions are released they are able to catch the wind and travel long distances. These smokestacks let out close to 30 million tons of Sulfur dioxide every year, which is unfiltered and is poured directly into our atmosphere." The Inco, Limited copper and nickel smelter in Subbury Ontario discharged 3,400 tons of sulfur dioxide a day which is 1 percent of all sulfates released in the world"(Pringle21). When first thought of these large smokestacks were supposed to be a remedy to help clean up the air. The government insisted that large smokestacks would help clean the air around these big factories. They did see positive results of cleaner air around the new taller smokestacks. Unfortunately they didn't realize that they weren't cleaning up the sulfates, they were just making the wind carry them away from the power plant. This is what helped create the acid rain problem in the eastern United States and as far away as Europe. Previous scientists felt that the higher the smokestack was the gases would eventually disipate causing no environmental harm whatsoever. Many factories would agree to this idea to keep their production output high, instead of having it drop because they need to regulate what they release into the air. Years after years factories would release tons of sulfur dioxide into the air and it would come down as acid rain hundreds of miles away unnoticed.

So what has it done to our environment? There are many serious affects that are just recently being discovered. When acid rain is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is it's affects on water systems. Acid rain has greatly affected our aquatic biomes. The rain has lowered ph readings so much in the past years that it has left many lakes barren of all aquatic life.” In the Adirondacks, the vast mountain sanctuary in upstate New York, acid rain has killed the fish in about 200 of the regions best sport fishing lakes"(Bennett1). This is from years of acid rain going unnoticed by scientists who didn't know why these fish were just dying. The acidity of the water also affects the reproductive system of the fish. Many fish such as the rainbow trout are unable to spawn with a pH that's below 5.4.There eggs are unable to hatch because the water stunts their development. Any pH reading below 5.4 and the adult trout begin to die off. Unfortunately It's not just the trout that have problems surviving in acidic waters. Every species of fish start to die off when the pH drops. It's just a matter of how long it takes before they start to slowly die off. This has become a very serious problem because salmon are dying before they are able to breed in their freshwater spawning grounds. If they do get to lay their eggs almost none hatch because the river is acidic. This has caused a serious drop in their populations and many are worried. There is an estimated 50,000 lakes that are affected by acid rain and it's only a matter of time until they all become lifeless (Ostmann 19.) There are also the other water creatures such as salamanders and frogs who are being depleted because they can't survive the acidity of the waters. Like the fish they are unable to breed and eventually the water kills the living population. The acid rain also kills off the aquatic algae and plants that are living in the water by killing the tissue of the plants. The rain also affects the microorganisms as well because they are not able to complete essential life processes. When the pH reaches a measurement of about 5.0 it is safe to say that there is no living species left in the lakes or streams, including the microorganisms. Also fish have been dying in other ways due to acid rain. Some fish have been shown to have high levels of mercury and aluminum in them. This is because the rain loosens up the toxins that were previously embedded in rocks. This causes pollution op the water and eventually poisons the fish. One example of how humans can be affected by acid rain is if we consume fish that has been living in a lake with high levels of mercury in it, we are susceptible to mercury poisoning.

However it is not just our waterways that are being damaged by acid rain, Many forests are also being depleted since acid rain is adding more nitrogen in the soil. This is creating stress on the tree, and it eventually gets to a point where the tree is unable to deal with the large amounts of nitrogen and dies. Also the nitrogen in the rain displaces essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. If the tree does not have the nutrients , it will eventually kill them, which is causing serious problems in places such as Sweden. Studies have shown that acid rain can be detrimental to our nations crops. It has been determined that the rain causes a decrease in the production of carbohydrates which can alter fruits, seeds, tubers, and roots, the parts used by people for food.(Gay27.) This greatly impacts many of our nations farmers. If they are not able to produce good crops due to acid rain, they could go bankrupt because their income depends on what they grow. Many farmers do not see the affects of acid rain on their crops because much of the soil is treated with lime. Although there are plenty of cases of where acid rain has destroyed many acres of farmland and has left the farmer with no crops to sell.. As discussed earlier acid rain also helps free up toxic elements that were previously locked safely away in rocks. This can be a very dangerous problem, because elements such as mercury can be extremely lethal to animals as well as humans. Other metals are also released such as aluminum and zinc which have the potential to be just as dangerous. These elements are especially quite dangerous to our water systems because they are easily passed on to the fish that live in the lake. This is harmful to both the fish and the other organisms who prey on them.

Acid rain has also become a serious political problem. Many countries are pointing their fingers at the Unites States. For example Canada has been pushing for the U.S to have stricter air regulations so that what comes out of the huge smokestacks are cleaner and healthier for the environment. Many of the big factories that pour out tons of sulfur dioxide are near the Great Lakes, and many Canadians are saying that the wind blows the pollutants straight up to Canada. However, the problem isn't just set in North America it is being recognized also in Europe. In 1979 a Convention on Transboundary Air Pollution was signed between European nations and the United States. This was signed to make sure countries had scientists researching acid rain its effects, and possible cures to the problem. Many European scientists feel that it is the United States who is causing most of the acid rain around the world. So to solve the problem many feel that it's the United States job to regulate what their factories emit. However the methods to reduce the amounts of pollutants is very expensive. The Unites States does not want to pay more money to burn coal, they are more worried about the economic standpoint than the environmental aspect of the problem. The new ideas to cut down on sulfur dioxide emissions have been brought up many times by other nations as well as the Unites States itself. The plan is to either to use cleaner coal which would be cleaned at the mines or attach a sprayer to the smokestacks that would spray lime to neutralize the sulfur dioxide. Either way the government sees this as a bad idea. They feel that it will cost too much for factories to change their methods to use cleaner coal. If we did use the cleaner coal it would lead to higher bills for the everyday citizen which isn't wanted. Also the "lime sprayer" would cost the same or even more than using cleaner coal if installed in power plants. Since it has to be fitted for each and every smokestack things have to be rearranged which means it will cost more to install, then the government wants to pay for it.

Here are several answers to solve the acid rain problem we face today. Many people are saying if it is Sulfur dioxide that is causing acid rain, why cant factories just filter them all out? How do we do that? One way is to look for new energy sources. As previously talked about the burning of fossil fuels accounts for almost 90 percent of all the sulfur dioxide that enters our atmosphere today. If we explore new energy sources that might reduce sulfur dioxide emissions it will considerably reduce the amount of acid precipitation that falls to the ground every year. With only a limited amount of fossil fuel left and the higher prices, it is almost essential to look for new kinds of fuel. Others feel that the solution lies within the government. If The government would regulate large factory emissions more carefully, large amounts of pollutants can be reduced. A stronger Clean Air Act with more restrictions on big factories are necessary. They need to regulate the height of the smokestacks, to prevent pollutants from traveling long distances and polluting other countries. The installment of air filters in large factories would also help to clean the air of pollutants before it is released into the atmosphere. If 70 percent of the sulfur and Nitrogen oxides could be removed before entering the atmosphere, there would be a drastic reduction of acid precipitation. "Manufacturing scrubbers and other clean-up devices could provide both jobs and opportunities and clean air.(Boyle126.)" With higher standards, to Acts such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Act we could eliminate all the excess pollution, that we have because of unregulated factory emissions. As far as how to deal with the acid rain problem we now have in our lakes and streams the answer is liming. This method involves the dumping of lime (a natural alkaline material) into acid polluted waters. With this method lime is dumped either by plane or by barge into the water to help neutralize the pH to a safe level where aquatic species can thrive. However there are many downsides to liming. One reason is that it is very expensive and it only lasts for a maximum of two to three years before the acid starts to take control again. Another reason why liming can be harmful is that if it is not properly dosed it can prove to be just as deadly to living organisms as the acid rain . Many lakes have tried liming out and most with success, but it is just too costly to keep it up for further treatments. With 50,000 lakes that need to be treated it is almost impossible to get that much lime to treat them all. . There are also many ideas that liming should be used only in lakes that have no life anymore, so species can be introduced back into them. Then it can be regulated as it needs to be to keep life flourishing, while we wait for other solutions.

Finally acid rain is becoming noticed as a very serious environmental problem. Everyday more and more pollutants are entering our environment and we need to reduce them. Thousands of lakes and acres of forests have already been destroyed because of acid pollution. Now that we know what is necessary to do plans should be made to cut down on our pollution and eliminate a lot of sulfur dioxide that enters our environment. Its essential that we look into other fuel sources besides coal and the other fossil fuels. This will help so much by reducing the major cause of Sulfur dioxide which can be found in the large coal burning and metal smelting factories. Even the small things count in the long run like carpooling. It helps reduce the amount of fossil fuels that are being used up everyday, so if a person could carpool it would reduce that much less of sulfur dioxide that is in the air. To understand that acid rain is a problem worldwide, we need to concentrate more than ever to preserve our environment. Now that we know that it is actually acid rain that has been destroying our environment we need to realize that it is very important to find a solution as soon as possible. We need to realize that our lives depends on the well-being of other species(Miller 99). If we don't take care of the living species now they will eventually be depleted until the whole food chain is gone. Every species is key to the environment, including humans. This is important because acid rain is destroying these species that are important to the environment." Solving the acid rain problem requires the cooperation of factories, government authorities and the entire community(Snodgrass 41)". There is no one person that is going to resolve this major environmental problem, but as a whole many things can be accomplished. We caused the problem and now it's our duty to deal with it for Mother Nature's sake.


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