Friday, May 28, 2021

Acidic Destruction

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Acidic Destruction

Sitting in your room late at night, you listen to the gentle pitter-patter of the rain on your window. It is so soothing and relaxing. Have you ever wondered what the rain is really made of? Is that simply water or is it acid slowly streaming down out there? That rain you hear might be acid rain, which is caused by sulfur-dioxide emissions and shown to be harmful to plants, animals, humans, and even buildings and structures.

The commonly used terms "acid rain" and "acid precipitation" describe specific forms of a type of pollution described generally as "acid deposition." Harmful gases that rise into the air mix with cloud moisture, sunlight, and oxidants. There they chemically combine into dilute sulfuric and nitric acids, which fall back to the earth. This is acid deposition. The major contributing pollutants are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide (Morgan, 5).

"Acid rain" is basically rainwater with a pH level lower than 5.6 (Morgan, ). The term pH means "potential hydrogen". When a substance has a pH level of 7, it is completely neutral with the same number of hydroxyl and hydrogen ions (Pringle, 6). Acidity in the atmosphere can be changed by many natural things. When a volcano erupts, sulfur dioxide is spewed out. Droughts produce unusually dry soil conditions allowing dust particles to be carried upward into the air, neutralizing the acids that may be present at the time (Pringle, 4). Acid rain can come in concentrations sometimes more acidic than lemon juice. These pollutants reach the earth in rain, snow, hail, sleet, or fog. The rain at the beginning of a shower is usually more acidic than the rain that follows. Dry acidic particles can also fall from the atmosphere. Because wind can carry gases and moisture for hundreds of miles, even areas far away from the source bear the effects of acid deposition (Durham, 10). There are of course, many things that we as humans do everyday to promote and support the continuation of acid rain.

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When the fossil fuel, coal, is used, the sulfur in it mixes with oxygen in the air to form sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is eventually turned into acid over a matter of days. Coal-fired power plants are the single greatest cause of acid rain in the United States. They account for two-thirds of all sulfur dioxide emissions in the US (Pringle 16; Morgan 75). In the mid-180's, the United States alone discharged about 6 million tons of sulfur dioxide (Bennet). For decades, the highest source for sulfur dioxide emissions was the huge Inco, Ltd., a copper and nickel smelter in Sudbury Ontario. Each year the Sudbury plant gave off 1% of the entire world's sulfur dioxide emissions, including both natural and human sources (Morgan, 4).

At a staggering 1,50 ft, Superstack is almost as tall as the Empire State Building. Its main purpose was to act as a giant chimney to take all toxins higher into the atmosphere so that we humans would not have to breathe them. The air quality around the smelter was much better and plant life started growing back. The problem was, the sulfur dioxide was then blown whichever the winds happened to be going. Most of the time those winds to the sulfur dioxide across state borders and into Canada (Morgan, 7) Scientists then used satellite photography to trace the weather patterns back to where the sulfur dioxide originated. The acid falling back down to earth, whether it is in dry or wet form has drastic consequences for many.

One example is when a rainstorm occurs in a forest. The summer rains wash the leaves of the branches and fall to the forest floor below. Some of the water is absorbed into the soil while other water run-off enters nearby streams, rivers, or lakes. When acid rain is absorbed into the ground, it slowly poisons the tree by being absorbed through the roots. Acidic rainwater also dissolves the nutrients and minerals that the plants need from the soil. When acid rain is frequent, leaves tend to lose their protective, waxy coating. After a leaf loses it's coating, it becomes more susceptible to diseases. By damaging the leaves, the plant can not produce enough food energy for it to remain healthy. Trees no longer grow as fast as they did before. Leaves and pines needles turn brown and fall off when they are supposed to be green in color (Phamornsuwana).

Not only are plants affected by acid rain, but animals are as well. Animals in an aquatic biome suffer more extreme consequences than that of any other biome. The simplest way to show the amount of damage would be in the following record/chart. Diary of Death for aquatic life

pH 6.5 The growth rate of brook trout slows and lake trout begin to have trouble reproducing. Clams and snails become scarce. Acid-tolerant organisms, such as certain rotifers and filamentous green algae, start to increase.

pH 6 Brook and rainbow trout populations start to decline. Smallmouth bass and spotted salamanders have trouble reproducing, as do several kinds of mayflies. Several species of clams and snails are wiped out.

pH 5.8 Tiny crustaceans called copepods die out, and some kinds of crayfish have trouble re-growing their hard exoskeletons after they molt.

pH 5.5 Rainbow trout and some smallmouth bass population are becoming extinct. Other trout, shiners, walleyes pike, and roach fail to reproduce and their numbers drop. Leeches and mayfly larvae disappear.

pH 5.4 The reproduction of most crayfish is impaired.

pH 5 All but one species of crayfish are dead. As are the brook trout, walleyed pike, and bullfrogs. Thick mats of green and blue-green algae cover the lake bottom. Some insects in crease because few fish are left to prey on them or because they live on the water surface. These include water boatmen and water striders.

pH 4.8 The number of leopard frogs declines, along with populations of rooted underwater pondweeds.

pH 4.5 Mayflies and stoneflies have all died out.

pH 4. Pumpkinseed sunfish population declines and northern pike have completely disappeared.

pH 4. The common toad dies out. It lives on land but must lay its eggs in ponds and lakes.

pH 4 The spring peeper, another amphibian the produces in ponds and marshes begins to die out. All aquatic plants except those that are acid tolerant are dead or in decline.

pH .5 Virtually all clams, snails, frogs, fish, and crayfish are missing from these acidic waters.

pH .5 Only a few species of acid-tolerant midges and some algae and fungi are alive.

pH The water is remarkably clear, but this in not a healthy clarity. The water is virtually sterile (Bennet).

The waters of tens of thousands of Scandinavian lakes are now unnaturally clear due to acid rain. Hundreds of lakes in New York's Adirondack Mountains are sterile as well. Most lakes and streams have a pH level between 6 and 8. Some lakes are naturally acidic even without the effects of acid rain. For example, Little Echo Pond in New York has a pH level of 4.. Acid rain can enter a lake or pond by many different methods (Durham, 8). Dry particles can come down out of the atmosphere and settle into a lake or pond. Precipitation is another common method as well as drainage from a sewer system. Probably the most drastic method by far would have to be spring acid shock. When acid snow melts in the spring, the acids in the snow seep into the ground. Some of the snow runs off the ground and into lakes (Phamornsuwana). A sudden dose of acids can have long-lasting effects on a lake or pond.

Acid rain does not only damage the natural ecosystems, but also man-made materials and structures. Marble, limestone, and sandstone can easily be dissolved by acid rain. Metals, paints, textiles, and ceramic can effortlessly be corroded. Acid rain can downgrade leather and rubber. Man-made materials slowly deteriorate even when exposed to unpolluted rain, but acid rain helps speed up the process (Morgan, 7). Acid rain causes carvings and monuments in stones to lose their features. It is known to dramatically accelerate the deterioration of buildings, including landmarks such as the Acropolis in Athens, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Statue of Liberty in New York City (Phamornsuwana). The repairs on building and monuments can be quite costly. In Westminster, England, up to ten million pounds was spent necessitated on repairs damaged by acid rain. In 10, the United States spent thirty-five billion dollars on paint damage. In 185, the Cologne Cathedral cost the Germans approximately twenty million dollars in repairs. In Italy, the repairs on the Roman monuments cost about two hundred million dollars (Durham, 111).

Most importantly, acid rain can affect the health of a human being. It can harm us through the atmosphere or through the soil from which our food is grown and eaten from. These foods that are consumed could cause nerve damage to children, severe brain damage, or even death (Phamornsuwana). One of the serious side effects of acid rain on humans is a respiratory problem. The sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission gives risk to respiratory problems such as dry coughs, asthma, headaches, eye, nose, and throat irritation (Pringle, 64). Polluted rainfall is especially harmful for people who suffer from asthma for people who have hard time breathing. But even healthy people can have their lungs damaged by acid air pollutants. Acid rain can aggravate a persons ability to breathe and may increase disease, which could lead to death (Bennet).

Acid rain is proven to be extremely harmful to the environment, buildings, and human life. Acid rain is made when sulfur dioxides mix with nitrogen oxides to form acids. The acids then can come back down out of the atmosphere in either a dry or a wet form. Both of these have proven devastating to both aquatic animals and forests. Billions of dollars have been spent to correct and try to fix what acid rain had done to buildings and monuments. Even more disturbing, acid rain also has a very serious effect on the health of humans. The causes of acid rain are clear, and although we, as citizens, may not be able to directly control the harmful emissions produced by power plants, we have to do what little we can to save the environment, and ourselves. So walk or ride a bike every once in awhile, but more importantly, write a letter to the government or get involved in research to find new ways of operating those coal-fired power plants.

Works Cited

Bennet, Mark. "Acid Rain" -5-00. Online. Internet. 1-17-6 http//

Durham, Jack. Acid Rain A Student's First Sourcebook. Diane Publishing Co. 14.

Morgan, Sally. Acid Rain. Franklin Watts, Incorporated 1.

Phamornsuwana, Sam. "Effects of Acid Rain" -4-00. Online. Internet. 1-5- http//

Pringle, Laurence. Rain of Troubles. Macmillan Publishing Co. 188.

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