Acid Rain Research: Do We Have Enough Answers?

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We could end by not benefiting the very regions we want to protect. Furthermore, research has shown that we should not look monolithically at sulfur dioxide, although it is the main precursor for acid rain. Its conversion to sulfuric acid is influenced by other copollutants, such as non-methane hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen.

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A control strategy should also look at these substances. It still seems that we could at least initiate corrective programs. Many scientists agree we should start doing something. The problem is the time frame: Should something be done in the next 10 years, in the next 20 years? If researchers were able to tell us that action must be completed within the next 10 or 15 years or the ecological system will suffer irreparable damage, there would be no question as to how to proceed.

Acid Rain Research: Do We Have Enough Answers?

But we don't have that type of guidance. The only strategy available to us under a severe time limit of 10 years and less would be to retrofit existing coal-fired power plants. To me, that is counterproductive to our overall objectives regarding air pollution and energy - to provide energy, to conserve energy and also to deal not only with acid rain, but with carbon dioxide a principal factor in the so-called greenhouse effect, in which Earth's atmosphere traps sunlight and causes surface temperatures to increase and the depletion of ozone.

All three issues, global issues, are linked through fossil fuel burning. Also, retrofitting plants to control for sulfur dioxide is not energy conservative, because it will make the conversion of coal or oil into electricity inefficient.

If we have more time, we could optimize our strategy. There are emerging technologies that burn oil and coal cleaner than anything we now know, that emit less pollution and that convert coal to electricity more effeciently than we can today. Given time, we could rectify the acid rain problem while mitigating other atmospheric dangers.

Act now and legislation will flow calling for retrofitting existing power plants. That excludes other approaches, because retrofitting old power plants guarantees that they will be around for a long time, which means they won't be replaced with new, more efficient plants. To me such legislation offers a short-term benefit, in that it would alleviate the effects of acid rain faster, over a shorter period time than other strategies. But other strategies would give us a broader range of antipollution benefits.

There are estimates. If we look at the aquatic system, we talk about possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in damage being done. If it turns out that forest damage is due to acid rain, and this is still in question, then the Canadian forests alone are worth billions of dollars.

But to assess the costs and eventual benefits of action taken now is premature if we don't include a co-pollutant control strategy and if we don't discuss strategies in the context of energy production, with an emphasis on the decreased burning of fossil fuel. For example, Germany's switch from coal and oil to natural gas essentially constitutes an acid rain program, since natural gas has a lower sulfur content.

Failing to take account of the larger issue - how we should produce energy in the future - when devising an acid rain strategy means missing the boat. QScientists can agree on the causes of acid rain, but can they pinpoint its source? About 70 percent of the main pollutant, sulfur dioxide, comes from old power plants that burn coal. The secondary pollutant, oxides of nitrogen, comes from power plants and automobile tailpipes.

Acid rain - Chemistry for All - FuseSchool

The heaviest concentration of old power plants is in the Midwest and along the Ohio River, although there are substantial sources of sulfur dioxide emissions in Eastern states such as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In my opinion, the long-range transport of pollutants from the Midwest together with the nearby emission of pollutants have made America's Northeast, particularly aquatic resources in New York State and New England, and also Southeast Canada, some of the hardest hit acid rain areas.

We are not percent sure of the details of how pollutants are converted into acid deposition. There is also significant uncertainty as to many of the effects of acid rain. The degree to which it damages forests is just beginning to be understood; as time goes on that threat looks greater.

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We don't really understand what acid deposition does to ground water supplies. As to crops - some show considerable acid rain damage, others show little. A whole body of research, including studies by the National Academy of Science, a joint United States-Canada working group and the Office of Technology Assessment, came to similar conclusions:. First, that sulfur deposition needs to be decreased in the Northeast by at least 50 percent to 66 percent.

Second, that reductions of sulfur dioxide emissions from utilities are the best way to bring about the decrease. Third, that the reduction of utility sulfur dioxide emissions will reduce total sulfur deposition. That is, the reduction of total sulfur deposition over the Eastern United States should be nearly proportional to the decreases in sulfur dioxide emissions from utilities.

This is consistent with my own research into the subject. But aren't we missing information that would make action taken now shortsighted, even dangerous? It is not necessary to have complete scientific knowledge in order to begin a control program. For acid rain, we would simply devise an initial control strategy whose aim would be to reduce overall sulfur dioxide emissions. Then over the next 10 years or so, we would fine tune the program. We should recall that acid deposition proceeds from existing power plants. Therefore any attempt to control acid rain must focus on reductions from these plants.

New plants coming on line will have relatively lower sulfur dioxide emissions, because of current legal requirements. These plants are on line now and will stay on line in any event, many of them for 40 years or more. With the acid deposition problem at critical levels in some regions, it makes no sense to wait for these plants to shut down before initiating a control strategy.

Vinegar has a pH value of 2. Even the strongest recorded acid rain is only about as acidic as lemon juice or vinegar and we know that these don't harm us - so why do we worry about acid rain? The Effects of Acid Rain. Acid rain can be carried great distances in the atmosphere, not just between countries but also from continent to continent.

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The acid can also take the form of snow, mists and dry dusts. The rain sometimes falls many miles from the source of pollution but wherever it falls it can have a serious effect on soil, trees, buildings and water. Forests all over the world are dying, fish are dying. In Scandinavia there are dead lakes, which are crystal clear and contain no living creatures or plant life. Many of Britain's freshwater fish are threatened, there have been reports of deformed fish being hatched.

This leads to fish-eating birds and animals being affected also. Is acid rain responsible for all this? Scientists have been doing a lot of research into how acid rain affects the environment. It is thought that acid rain can cause trees to grow more slowly or even to die but scientists have found that it is not the only cause.

The same amount of acid rain seems to have more effect in some areas than it does in others. As acid rain falls on a forest it trickles through the leaves of the trees and runs down into the soil below. Some of it finds its way into streams and then on into rivers and lakes. Some types of soil can help to neutralise the acid - they have what is called a "buffering capacity".

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Other soils are already slightly acidic and these are particularly susceptible to the effects of acid rain. Acid rain can effect trees in several different ways, it may:.

A combination of these effects weakens the trees which means that they can be more easily attacked by diseases and insects or injured by bad weather. It is not just trees that are affected by acid rain, other plants may also suffer. Lakes and Rivers. It is in aquatic habitats that the effects of acid rain are most obvious. Acid rain runs off the land and ends up in streams, lakes and marshes - the rain also falls directly on these areas. As the acidity of a lake increases, the water becomes clearer and the numbers of fish and other water animals decline.

Some species of plant and animal are better able to survive in acidic water than others. Freshwater shrimps, snails, mussels are the most quickly affected by acidification followed by fish such as minnows, salmon and roach. The roe and fry eggs and young of the fish are the worst affected, the acidity of the water can cause deformity in young fish and can prevent eggs from hatching properly. The acidity of the water does not just affect species directly, it also causes toxic substances like aluminium to be released into the water from the soil, harming fish and other aquatic animals.

Lakes, rivers and marshes each have their own fragile ecosystem with many different species of plants and animals all depending on one another to survive. If a species of fish disappears, the animals which feed on it will gradually disappear too. If the extinct fish used to feed on a particular species of large insect, that insect population will start to grow, this in turn will affect the smaller insects or plankton on which the larger insect feeds.

Every type of material will become eroded sooner or later by the effects of the climate.

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Water, wind, ice and snow all help in the erosion process but unfortunately, acid rain can help to make this natural process even quicker. Statues, buildings, vehicles, pipes and cables can all suffer.


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The worst affected are things made from limestone or sandstone as these types of rock are particularly susceptible and can be affected by air pollution in gaseous form as well as by acid rain. Where is it coming from? Until relatively recently air pollution has been seen as a local issue.

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