Scientists from around the globe have come to a
conclusion, on the basis of environmental evidence, that
acid rain is now a serious problem in the industrialized
regions of the world. Acid rain impacts on lakes and
vegetation. Many lakes are extremely sensitive to acid rain
because they are unable to neutralize it. Such lakes are
either enclosed systems, that have no way of flushing out
the acids, or lakes that cover relatively inert bedrock
which does not react chemically to neutralize the acids.
This affects the lake by making it unable to support fish.
Forests are affected when acid rain falls on foliage or by
changes in soil chemistry as a result of acid deposition.
Acid rain is composed of antecedents that come mainly from
the fossil fuels that humans used. The most common of these
fossil fuel by-products are sulfur and nitrogen compounds.
They are produced by electric power generation, industrial
processes, cars, trucks, and space heaters. Aside from
these man-made causes, natural occurrences like forest
fires, organic decay, and lightning do generate some sulfur
and nitrogen compounds. As soon as these compounds enter
our atmosphere, photochemical reactions (sunlight) and
chemical processes occur to make nitric and sulfuric acids
There are both direct and indirect effects of acid rain on
humans and various materials and structures. The acidic
particles and those which form air pollution, pose a health
problem in polluted environments, especially affecting the
lungs. Also, acid rain could increase heavy metals in some
fish which would impact human heath. Acid rain is also
responsible for surface erosion, chemical alteration
processes (e.g. corrosion and discoloration), and physical
alteration processes (e.g. cracking and pitting).
Largely populated areas are not the only places that acid
rain problems have been in effect. These problems are the
results of human-produced nitrogen compounds, that are
created miles away from the problem areas, and from natural
hydrocarbons emitted by the vegetation. All this is
extremely dangerous to the health and survival of certain
crops that are taken for granted by our nation, as we think
that they will always survive.
Another major problem with acid rain is that, although it
is mainly in the northeastern United States and western
Europe, scientists have noted that winds are gradually
pushing the rain clouds over to other parts of the world
that are considered safe right now, and are not prepared
for a large case of acid rain. This has been noted by
historians, who are able to see that many historical
buildings such as the Colosseum in Rome, and certain
cathedrals in Europe have been effected by acid rain. Much
corrosion and deterioration has occurred from these waves
of acid rain.
Scientists use the pH factor to determine what rain is
acidic. The average normal rain ranges anywhere from 5.8 to
7. It has been determined that if the pH level of rain
falls to 5.5 or lower, then it is acid rain. This is a very
serious situation to reach, and what makes it worse is that
many of the average rainfalls in the eastern United States
and Western Europe range from a low 4.5 to 4.0.
These horrible facts leave most countries without a choice
as to what to do about acid rain. Most governments are
faced with having to spend millions of dollars on
antipollution devices (burners, filters, etc.). Countries
are losing money, however, because by the end of the
century, almost 500,000 lakes and 4 billion cubic feet of
timber will have been destroyed in Europe by acid rain
alone. This means that they have to move fast, or in the
long run, acid rain will succeed in hurting the world both
financially, and environmentally.
Gould, Roy. Going Sour: Science and Politics of Acid Rain.
Basel: Birkhauser, 1985.
Howard, Ross and Michael Perley. Acid Rain. New York:
McGraw Hill, 1980.
Pringle, Laurence. Rain of Troubles: the Science and
Politics of Acid Rain. New York: Macmillan Publishing
Stewart, Gail B. Acid Rain. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books,