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Acid rain, also known as acid accumulation or acid deposition, moisture having a pH of approximately 5.2 or less formed mainly from the release of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx; a mixture of NO and NO2) from natural processes, often fossil energy burning. It is a type of rain composed of droplets that are unnaturally acidic due to air pollution, especially the excessive levels of sulphur and nitrogen discharged by vehicles and industrial plants (Briney, 2014). Although it typically takes the shape of water droplets, acid rain can also exist in the configuration of mist, ice, or even percentages of dry ingredients that may accumulate in the atmosphere (National Geographic, 2014). The impact of acidification has been seen globally, such as decreased aquatic fish growth, dieback, and deficient plant life, presence of toxic aluminum, harmful chemicals in soil and water bodies, and environmental degradation. It destroys forests and enhances their vulnerability to other pressures such as drought, severe cold, and pest attack.
In this regard, the essay focuses on the concept of acid rain along with its impact and technique to minimize the problem caused by acid rain. To address the objective of the essay, the essay has covered the chemistry of acid rain, the impact of acid rain, and control strategies. Thus, the thesis statement can be stated as, “Whether acid rain proves beneficial for the environment.”
The Chemistry of Acid Rain
Acid rain is a common word for the more technical concept deposition of acids, which relates to the various ways acidity can pass from the atmosphere to the surface of the Earth (Wang 2020). According to Burns et al. (2016), acid deposition involves acidic rain, as well as other toxic types of wet deposition such as ice, storm, hailstorm, and mist (or sky water).
In contrast, Zhang (2019) defined wet deposition as rainfall in any shape that extracts acids from the atmosphere and delivers it to the surface of the Earth. It also entails dry deposition of acidic particles and gases that may damage the ecosystems throughout dry seasons. However, Silva and Heald (2017) describe dry deposition as a method through which aerosols and pollutants are discarded from the environment and absorbed by the crust of the ground. Therefore, acid rain may influence the ecosystems and living things that live inside it even when precipitation does not occur.
Elements of Acid Rain
Sulphur dioxide/sulphur trioxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide diffuse in heavy rain are the primary elements of acid rains. Such elements are incorporated as dry and wet depositions. As these contaminants are soluble in rainy water, it creates different acids. It describes the chemical processes of such contaminants as follows (Wang, 2020).
CO2+H2O → H2CO3 (carbonic acid)
SO2+H2O → H2SO3 (sulphurous acid)
NO2+H2O → HNO2 (nitrous acid) + HNO3 (nitric acid)
Reasons for Acid Rain Formation
Acid rain is produced by releases of SO2 and NOX from multiple sources to the atmosphere. Moreover, the primary factors of acid rain formation in the world are natural resources and human activities.
Pollution from volcanic eruptions and biological activities that happen on the ground, in wetlands, and the waterways introduce acid-producing emissions to the environment are the natural source factors (Sivaramanan, 2015).
However, human exercises such as charcoal burning, utilizing oil and natural gas in power plants to generate electricity, cooking, and to start the automobiles, carry off sulphur oxide, carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, residual hydrocarbons, and organic particulates (National Geographic, 2014). Such emissions combine with water vapour and storm water, contributing in weak solutions of sulphuric and nitric acids that drop back to the sea, lake, and soil as acid rain. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and petrol) generates sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen that lead to the enhancement of the acidity in the environment.
For instance, Gouw et al. (2014) showed that power systems generate approximately 70 percent of SO2 and around 20 percent of NOx emissions in the United States. In the United States, fossil fuels consumed by automobiles contribute almost 60 percent of NOx emissions.
Acid Rain Measurement
Acidity is an indicator of the hydrogen ion concentration (H+) in a sample. As per Kazemi and Ghorbanpour (2017), the pH level is used to evaluate an aqueous solution’s acidity or alkalinity.
Compounds are regarded as acidic below a pH of 7, and each level of pH below 7 is 10 times more acidic or has 10 times more H+ than the level above it. The smaller the pH level of a compound (below 7) is, the more acidic it is, and the stronger the pH level of a compound (higher than 7) is, the more alkaline it is. Natural rain has a pH of around 5.6; it is mildly acidic as it dissolves carbon dioxide (CO2), causing weak carbonic acid. Typically the acid rain has a pH between 4.2 and 4.4. The following equation applies to transform the pH-values to hydrogen ions:
H+ µeql-1 = antilog (6.0 – pH)
Where H+ equal-1 is the hydrogen ion content in micro equivalents per litre.
Impact of Acid Rain
Dangerous to aquatic life
It is due to the enhanced acidity content in water bodies that prohibits eggs of many species like fish from harvesting, alters species proportions, and damages their habitat (US EPA, 2017).
Toxic to vegetables
Veggies are damaged due to higher soil acidity, parasites, and poor crop production, spoiling plants, generating dark patches in trees leaves, inhibiting photosynthetic activity, allowing microbes to attack through damaged leaves (Lal, 2016).
Harms human health
It causes breathing difficulties, pneumonia, dry cough, nausea, and inflammation of the throat. Crops and mammals may consume leaching of chemicals from the soil by acid rain. When such chemicals are ingested, it seriously impacts human health and causes brain damage, resulting in kidney disorders and Alzheimer’s syndrome in individuals who eat meat from poisonous mammals/plants from such chemicals (Petheram, 2002).
Impact on building
The acid rain melts the buildings’ stonework and plaster (particularly those constructed of sedimentary rock or gravels). It reacts with the materials in the stone to create a chalky material that can be drained away by rain.
Acid rain can be controlled by several measures. Winnes et al. (2020) concluded that as far as the nuclear power projects are involved, the safest option is to mount equipment recognized as ‘scrubbers’ in such factories’ chimneys. Such scrubbers minimize the level of sulphur by 90 to 95 percent released in the smoke. However, Lee et al. (2019) discuss the introduction of catalytic converters into an automobile’s exhaust tubes also decreases the level of sulphur dioxide generated by the vehicle. It will help in minimizing the effect of acid rain on an automobile.
All the emission devices and smokestacks and pipelines must be monitored and cleaned periodically by factories to minimize the impact of acid rain. Wang and Stiegel (2016) introduced another technique to mitigate the impact of acid rain is the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, that extracts sulphur dioxide from coal during burning and generates electricity in a cleaner and more effective manner.
Acid rain is a very significant problem that has horrible consequences on the environment. It has been concluded that acid rain negatively affects crops, creatures, humans, and even non-living things like buildings. There would be numerous health issues that can be prevented if acid rain is a bit less of a matter. It has been concluded that acid rain can be prevented by incorporating various methods such as scrubbers, catalytic converters, and the Integrated Combined Gasification Cycle.
Thus, the thesis statement can be restated as “acid rain is one of the primary environmental threats that we are encountering today, and significant steps must be implemented to avoid it before it is too late.”
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De Gouw, J., Parrish, D., Frost, G. and Trainer, M. 2014. Reduced emissions of CO2, NOx and SO2 from U.S. power plants due to the switch from coal to natural gas with combined cycle technology. Earth’s Future2(2). 10.1002/2014EF000196.
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Likens, G.E. and Butler, T.J. 2020. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/acid-rain
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Winnes, H., Fridell, E. and Moldanova, J. 2020. Effects of Marine Exhaust Gas Scrubbers on Gas and Particle Emissions. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering 8, p. 299. 10.3390/jmse8040299.
Zhang, Y., Foley, K., Schwede, D.B., Bash, J.O., Pinto, J.P. and Dennis, R.L. 2019. A measurement‐model fusion approach for improved wet deposition maps and trends. Journal of Geophysical Research 124, pp. 4237 – 4251. 10.1029/2018JD029051