Acid rain

Rainwater is critical to the earth's ecosystem. All living creatures rely on a consistent, clean supply of water. In the process of combusting fossil fuels, toxins are released into the atmosphere which react with water molecules to form acidic compounds. When these compounds come down in the form of rain, environmental havoc ensues. It's called acid rain.

In the natural state, rainwater reacts with carbon dioxide, but when human released levels of carbon dioxide increase, the process is accelerated and the natural pH balance of the ecosystem is altered. Unfortunately, a small alteration can cause big problems in the natural balance of our ecosystem.

Different areas of the country are affected in unique ways. The Midwest, for example, has a slightly alkaline soil that tends to neutralize acid rain, so this region is affected relatively lightly. In New England the effects are pronounced because the naturally acidic foundation tends to become aggravated by acid rain. Deciduous trees falter, pine trees whither, and overall agricultural productivity suffers. Certain mountainous regions in the Eastern U.S. have suffered the worst effects. Fish species are disappearing and those that remain are foundering. Certain varieties of trees, like the sugar maple, are disappearing because they can't handle the slight change in pH level.

Despite the local impact, global winds shift the acidic rainwater thousands of miles, so the problem is worldwide, not just local. In Canada, for example, a tremendous number of lakes are feeling the effects of acid rain.

Scientists have been monitoring the affects of acid rain since the 1970s, and the problem is getting worse each year. Acids have spread throughout the entire country, and even if the level of acid is reduced, the trend will continue because it takes Mother Nature decades to wipe the pH slate clean.

Acid rain can also affect humans directly. The acidic components are inhaled into the lungs and natural functions are altered in the process. Plus, acidic elements in soil and groundwater are ingested by humans and the resulting digestive problems can be pronounced. Declining bacterial populations in sewer systems are an issue because certain types of bacteria are necessary in the process of breaking down sewage into non-toxic elements. And finally, acid rain causes deterioration of buildings over time. Acid is very corrosive, and despite the fact that acid rain has very little acid, it's a persistent, consistent effect that accelerates the natural deterioration process.

All is not lost; improvements have been measured in acid rain levels, and the effects caused by acid rain. This goes to show that governmental inspired environmental programs can and do work, when implemented properly. Acid rain emission standards have improved the pH level of rain in many parts of the world. Yet there's a long way to go in the battle.

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