Acid Rain

The sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced by combustion of hydrocarbons react with the oxygen and water in the air to produce sulfuric and nitric acid. These acids dissolve in, and make rain acid. 18 Acid rain falls on plants causing direct damage. When it falls on ground with a low ability to neutralize acid it runs into streams and lakes killing the plants and animals. The acid rain that flows over and through soil dissolves metals such as aluminum and zinc. The dissolved metals add to the toxic effects of the acid rain drainage.

The total toxic effect of acid rain is strongly dependent on the nature of the soil where it falls. In the midsection of the United States, the soils contain large amounts of calcium carbonate, a good material for the neutralization of acids. When acid rain falls there, it is rapidly neutralized and causes only direct damage to foliage and buildings on the way to the soil. In the northeastern portion of the United States, and Canada, in the Scandinavian countries and in central Europe the soils contain little calcium carbonate, or other substances capable of neutralizing acid. In these places, acid rain is doing much damage to the lakes and soil after it damages the vegetation and structures. 19

13 Marchai, Eliot, "Gasoline: The Unclean Fuel?" Science, Vol. 246, October 13,1989, Page 199

14 Shaw, Robert W., "Air Pollution by Particles", Scientific American, Vol. 257, No. 3, August 1987, Page 96

15 Ingersoll, Andrew P., "The Atmosphere", Scientific American, Vol. 249, No. 3, September 1983 Page 162

16 McDermott, Walsh, "Air Pollution and Public Health", Scientific American, Vol. 210, No. 4, October 1961, Page 49

17 Smit, A. J. Haagen, "The Control of Air Pollution", Scientific American, Vol. 210, No. 1, January 1964, Page 24

18 Höhnen, Volker A., "The Challenge of Acid Rain", Scientific American, Vol. 259, No.2, August 1988, Page 30

19 Smith, Bernard, Whalley, Brian, and Fassina, Vasco, "Elusive Solution to Monumental Decay", New Scientist, Vol. 188, No. 1615, June 2,1988, Page 49

As is the case with smog, the chemicals responsible for acid rain are not persistent pollutants. They are rapidly removed from the air by natural weather processes. Acid rain is a persistent problem because we continue to manufacture the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in massive amounts by the combustion of fossil fuels. If we stop this combustion, the acid rain would disappear in a matter of months.

There clear and hidden health benefits of eliminating smog and acid rain. The obvious irritation caused by smog is familiar to all who live in or visit large cities. Detailed studies show that the subtle effects on persons with breathing difficulties and children result in a significant excess of death. 20 These deaths would be eliminated if we stop use of fossil fuels.

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