The measure of acidity is called pH. Our water has a pH of 7, meaning neutral. A substance with a pH of six would be considered mildly acidic, but a pH of 1 is extremely acidic. The average pH of rain in most of the Northeast is 4.3, a highly acidic rain. This is the result of a long history of industry that has existed in the area, and also because of weather patterns carrying pollution from the Midwest and similarly polluting regions.
Acid rain can harm both the land and the water.
It is most damaging when it falls in streams, lakes, and on thin, sandy soil low in calcium carbonate (lime). Lime neutralizes the effects of the acid. Aside from polluting topsoil acid rain can alter entire ecosystems. Desert areas of the United States such as Arizona and New Mexico have a fairly basic topsoil. The change that acid rainfall to those and other like areas could be potentially disastrous to the biological organisms that are adapted to the environment there, especially the plant life which ultimately provides food for all the
The main sources of sulfur dioxide in the United States are fifty high-sulfur-coal-burning electricity-generating plants scattered mostly through the Midwest.
They produce about half of all the sulfur dioxide in the country. There are many similar generating stations and coal-burning factories around the world, and their effects are disastrous to our planet. Industrialized nations pose the biggest threat to the environment. The United States operates on an oil passed economy.
China is still relying heavily on coal as a source of power. Both are highly polluting and exhaustible sources of power. Many nations such as Japan and Switzerland have made advances in renewable, non-polluting forms of energy such as solar, wind, and water.
Acid rain is formed when the byproducts of fossil fuels production combine with atmospheric water. Smoke expelled from smokestacks that reach a thousand feet into the air are saturated with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other chemicals. Wind carries the smoke hundreds of mile away from where it is generated. The chemical-filled air soon becomes heavy with evaporated moisture from the ground and soon form clouds. When the clouds get extremely heavy it condenses and falls as rain. Unlike the water that went into the air it is now filled with chemicals. This can pollute water tables, topsoil, crops, and has been linked to cancer in human and animals. Acid rain was responsible for the destruction of nearly 90% of Germanys forest lands and Every time a cloud filled with all the chemicals precipitates, the earth takes a chemical bath. Over time, the chemicals accumulate in the soil until they are strong enough to affect whatever grows on that soil. When pollution becomes strong enough to kill plants and trees, the local environment suffers.
The problem of acid rain is not a problem of the future. Circumstantial evidence shows that in the eastern United States and Canada, where natural weather patterns carry much of the United States-produced acid rain, human cancers and deaths have increased. In tropical and subarctic areas, entire species of plants and animal life are threatened. Rivers, lakes, and coastal bays are hit twice. First by acidified water, and second by the algae that grows when acid levels rise. In Canada as many as fourteen thousand lakes are so acidified that their native fish have died off.
Fixing the problem of acid rain would involve global cooperation to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that are burned annually. The problem has to be solved globally because weather patterns carry evaporated and contaminated water over country borders. Industrial regulations would greatly reduce the amount of harmful pollutants put into the atmosphere, as would finding alternate forms of power that do not pollute water, such as solar or nuclear. Automobiles also play a role in adding to the problem of acid rain. To stave off the impending problem of acid rain a global mandate would have to be enacted or the industrialized nations would have to either undergo hefty regulations or switch to a power source that is not fossil-fuel-based.