Have you ever wondered why limestone and marble begin to tarnish outdoors? Have you ever wondered what happens to the amount of pollution that is released in our air? Have you ever wondered why Harvard University covers their statues every winter? The answer is acid rain. Acid rain has been an on-going problem since the 1800’s. While acid rain has always existed from natural sources such as volcanoes, the increased amount of human pollution had made “clean” rain contaminated by pollutants resulting in an exponential increase of acid rain fall.
What is it?
In scientific terms, acid rain is any type of precipitation that has higher amounts of sulfuric and nitric acids. The sources of these acids come from different places. First they come from natural sources such as rotting plants, volcanoes, and animals. Around 1/3 of all the nitric and sulfuric acid compounds are from natural sources, leaving mother earth fighting an unbalanced ratio when the other 2/3’s comes from human output. The problem with this imbalance extends to everything on planet earth. Acid rain causes lakes and streams pH levels to lower which in turn kills fish that are dependent on these natural levels. Forests and trees are weakened or killed by the acidic water dissolving vital nutrients and damaging leaves. City and cultural structures are eroded and fall apart. And worst of all are studies by the Environmental Protection Agency which have linked higher amounts of these nasty compounds to higher rates of lung cancer, heart disease, and premature death.
Are humans to blame for the amount of acid rain fall that has increased and begun to damage plants and wildlife? The simple answer is yes. Since the industrial revolution, this country decided that we could burn fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) to create heat and energy. The problem is that such factories and inventions release these acids into the air at an alarming and unnatural rate. Everything from heating your house to driving your car negatively increases the amount of sulfur and nitrogen compounds that are spewed into our air.
While the estimations of the amount of emissions being polluted was a staggering 70Tg (S) coming from human output with approximately 11 Tg (S) coming from natural causes, governments have established organizations since the 1980’s to help monitor and solve the problem of acid rain. In 1989 the US Congress announced the Acid Rain Program that created parameters and restrictions on large factories that produce the compounds that create acid rain. Filters upon factories have been installed and many leading areas of the world such as Europe have made the push for cleaner and self-sustainable energy options such as solar and wind power. While much of this information can feel dauntless since most areas affected the worst by acid rain are not the ones producing it (New England & Europe, They are simply down wind from these factories) it is important that we raise awareness and keep the push for cleaner energy to protect our future.
By Carolyn Dean