Recently, I began writing my newest science-fiction novel based around the concept of acid rain in an attempt to raise awareness in a way that would make it more interesting to learn about. I’ve always been fascinated with the thought that something that was always viewed as “just water” could be something far more dangerous than anyone previously believed. Research shows that the pH of normal rain is already about 5.3 because of the natural amounts of carbon dioxide, but in 2000, the acid rain was measured at 4.3 – that’s ten times more acidic than natural rain. According to the EPA’s website, acid rain is defined as “a mixture of wet and dry deposition (deposited material) from the atmosphere containing higher than normal amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids”. Different amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the air via fossil fuel combustion. This can form sulfate when mixed with oxygen and turn to acid rain when combined with different types of precipitation. This high amount of sulfate in the air can cause serious health problems because when you inhale sulfate, it turns into sulfuric acid (Snarr & Snarr). This can cause many health problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. Also, it can impair visibility through the air, can attribute to corrosion of metals and stripping of paint, and even can affect the forests and aquatic animals. (EPA Official Website).
Acid rain doesn’t look, smell, taste, or feel any different from regular rain. If people aren’t aware that the rain they enjoy so much could be harming their health, the rain could just become so acidic that it could cause even more damage than it already does. Although there are many organizations that have been created to reverse the problem, people should still be more focused on acid rain because it can, and will, destroy the earth more quickly than people realize.
The UMAC (Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium) gives a phenomenal progress report on what’s being done help stop acid rain. They are also informative about the CCAR (Canadian Coalition for Acid Rain). The CCAR started in 1981 and has lobbied on the issue of acid rain in both the U.S. and Canada regarding finding ways to stop allowing factories to produce such dangerously high amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. They also work closely with the Canadian Acid Precipitation Foundation. Why so much in Canada? Well, according to BioEd Online, acid rain is a huge problem to our northern neighbors. “Shaun Watmough of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, told the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America that many of the province’s 31,000 small lakes have a pH value of about 5, making them dangerously acidic for fish and plants”. According to Watmough, it could take thousands of years to recover from the effects. So despite George H. W. Bush’s Clean Air Act in 1990, which was a large contributor of the reduction of sulfur emissions from 16 million tons a year to 11 million, the road to recovery will be lengthy and to some wildlife, deadly. To work with an organization such as the CCAR or the CAPF would be an honor. It would give me a chance to show people that we need to be mindful of the things we allow to be emitted into our air. I don’t think enough people are aware of how harmful acid rain can be and how illusive it is as well.
To think that humans can consciously release unsafe chemicals into the air with no concern for the health of others or the condition of the earth is ludicrous. If we aren’t more conscious about how we treat our earth, we could end up in a world of trouble. As stated before, acid rain can corrode metals, meaning that some of our bridges might be compromised and nothing’s safe about that. Mark Seis writes that “China will experience $65 billion in economic losses due to its growing acid rain problem, which is affecting crops, forests, and freshwater supplies.” (Snarr & Snarr 289) $65 billion in losses just due to acid rain – even looking at it from a perspective that isn’t global humanitarian, there’s something alarming about that kind of loss. And with the rain affecting crops, that means it is affecting food supply and the well-being of the people. I also look at acid-rain from a national interest standpoint. Seis also writes that “[a] 1984 report by US Congress estimated that 50,000 people in the United States and Canada had died prematurely from acid rain” (Snarr & Snarr 290). As a country that places so much emphasis on the importance of coming together, we should not allow that many people to die because of something that can be prevented.
Despite which view one looks at it, acid rain is an ongoing dangerous problem. The truth is that this problem can be avoided, however comes at a cost. Sulfur and nitrate don’t have to be emitted through the air in such a way that is dangerous. The EPA suggests many ways to prevent acid rain, such as cleaning smokestacks, using coal with less sulfur, and even washing the coal. Even as individuals just going the extra mile by being aware of the NO2 emissions that our cars give off and taking precautions to buy a car with low nitrate emissions can help clean up our earth and make the rain a little safer to play in. Thankfully, many countries are developing sulfur dioxide-reduction technology. Mark Seis suggests that “the best hope for acid rain reduction worldwide lies in developing cheap global alternative energies like solar and wind power,” and so it’s just the obstacle of the development and production of said energies while making them affordable so that everyone, despite social status or geographic location, can be capable of bettering the environment and the rain that’s so crucial to sustainable life.
*Research and quotes from multiple sources including:
“Acid Rain – Progress Report on Acid Rain – Learn More – Our Changing Planet – UMAC.” Acid Rain – Progress Report on Acid Rain – Learn More – Our Changing Planet – UMAC. <http://www.umac.org/ocp/ProgressReportonAcidRain/info.html>.
“Acid Rain Still Hurting Canada.” BioEd Online from Baylor College of Medicine <http://www.bioedonline.org/news/news.cfm?art=1948>.
Seis, Mark. “The Problem of Acid Rain.” Introducing Global Issues. By Michael T. Snarr and Neil Snarr, pg 288-92.
“The Social Network for Sustainability.” Organization: Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain CCAR. <http://www.wiser.org/organization/view/7dd4900ddeab3ec3f183e0c65178f735>.
“What Is Acid Rain?” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, <http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/what/index.html>.