A Brief Summary of Acid Rain: A Form of Air Pollution in the United States, Canada and Western Europe

Acid Rain is a form of air pollution. This is a widespread problem in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Once acid rain is in the air there is little we can do. If everyone works together we can eliminate some of the common everyday productions of Acid Rain.

Acid rain leaches nutrients from soils, slows tree growth, and makes lakes uninhabitable for fish and other wildlife.

In the cities, acid pollutants corrode almost everything they touch. Acid rain also comes with other chemicals to form smog. Smog attacks the lungs and causes illnesses.

An indirect effect of acid rain involving humans is that the toxic metals dissolved in the water are absorbed in fruits, vegetables and in the tissues of animals. Although these toxic metals do not directly affect the animals, they have serious effects on humans when they are being consumed. For example, mercury that accumulates in the organs and tissues of the animals has been linked with brain damage in children as well as nerve disorders, brain damage and death.

Similarly, another metal, Aluminium, present in the organs of the animals, has been associated with kidney problems and recently, was suspected to be related to Alzheimer's disease.

One problem is that airborne acids that come from electric utility plants fall to earth causing widespread damage. These are the electric plants that produce our energy for lights and power. The problem begins with the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and oil. This creates sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which interact with water and other chemicals in the air to form sulfuric acid, nitric acid and other pollutants. These chemicals travel in the air and come down to earth with rain and snow.

To be acidic, the pH levels have to be below 5.5-5.6. Acid Rain contaminates many things such as drinking water, aquatic life, and erodes building and monuments. Some people think that acid rain only comes from automobile exhausts and industrial plants. Little do they know that volcanic gasses and forest fires are also significant. This problem has increased since the 1950's.

Acid rain became a political issue in the 1980s when Canada claimed that the pollutants from the United States were contaminating their forests, lakes, and streams. Since then regulations have been set in North America and Europe to control the sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants.

In the soil, acid rain washes out the minerals and nutrients needed by the plants to live and produce foods through photosynthesis. Some of the richer soils can neutralize acids better than the sandy soils like those in the mountains. They can only do this for so long before the acidity is too great.

By removing and/or decreasing the amount of the nutrients in the soil, plant growth is slowed down. Acid rain attacks trees more than other plants by eating holes in the coating of their leaves and needles. This causes the inability to make food through photosynthesis. Once the trees are weakened they are more appt to get infested with insects. The trees that are at higher elevations, such as spruce and fir forests, are at a higher risk.

Most farm crops are not as affected by this as forest. Farms, like the ones here in the Midwest can absorb and neutralize large amounts of acid, as stated earlier this is because of the rich soil that we have here. Mountain farms have thinner soil and therefore do not neutralize the acids very well. Some farmers add nutrient-rich fertilizer when their soil is lacking nutrients.

Acid rain falls and drains into our lakes, streams, and rivers. In the northeastern United States the water in some lakes now have pHs less than 5. This is because of the acid rain contaminating them. In the Adirondack Mountains of New York state, a quarter of the lakes and ponds are acidic. Many of these waters have lost the fish habitats. In the Appalachian Mountains over 1,300 of the waters are affected by acid rain.

Freshwater clams and mayflies begin dying when the water pH reaches 6.0. Fish eggs of most species stop hatching if the pH gets below 5.0. Below the pH of 4.5 water is nearly sterile and is unable to support any type of wildlife.

If a population of one type of plant or animal if affected, its consumers will also be affected by this.

Acid Rain has many side effects. Although some are more serious than others. One of these serious side effects on people are respiratory problems. The Sulfur Dioxide(SO2) and Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions give rise to respiratory problems such as asthma and dry coughs. Also there are headaches, eye, nose and throat irritations.