Rain or other types of precipitation that contain elevated hydrogen ion levels, making it acidic, are referred to as acid rain. Elevated levels of hydrogen ions cause the rain to have a low pH, making it damaging to aquatic animals and plants and it can cause paint to peel and corrode steel buildings, bridges and stone sculptures. Acid rain develops when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions react with atmospheric water molecules and produce acid. Although the effects of pollution on structures were noted in the 1600s, the relationship between atmospheric pollution and the acid rain it produces was first brought to attention in 1852 in Manchester, England. Governments have been working since the 1970s to reduce these emissions and their efforts have had very positive results.
Interesting Acid Rain Facts:
- Acid rain can also be produced from volcanic eruptions, burning coal and even rotting plant life.
- Acid rain cannot rot your skin. It usually doesn't taste or smell any different than normal rain.
- The sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that creates acid rain can cause diseases such as cancer, asthma and even heart disease. It's a concern in the air, but not in the rain itself.
- The acid in acid rain can damage a car's paint job, but it won't melt the car.
- Acid rain can actually kill a forest. The acid rain can kill the leaves on the trees by cutting off their light and nutrient supply. It also changes the acidity in the soil, making it impossible for trees and other plant life to grow. It also poisons the soil and plant life.
- When acid rain lands in the water such as streams, lakes and rivers, it changes the pH and makes the water toxic to the fish and other life in the water.
- Entire lakes have been declared dead because of acid rain.
- Acid rain has a pH of 4.3 while pure water is perfectly balanced at 7.
- Acid rain has the same approximate pH as vinegar and orange juice.
- Rain is not the only type of precipitation that can be called acid rain. Snow, fog, and even dust can contain the same damaging toxins as acid rain.
- Acid rain can be neutralized the same way as acid can be. In some environments acid rain is more problematic. For instance, Eastern Canada lacks a natural alkalinity. Lime is able to neutralize acid, but there is no lime in the ground in some areas and because of this the acid rain is able to do more damage.
- Sulphur dioxide, which is a major contributor to acid rain, is produced by burning fossil fuels and it is a by-product of many industrial processes.
- A large amount of the acid rain that reaches Canada is the result of emissions in the United States.
- Nitrogen oxide, a major contributor to acid rain, is produced by the exhaust from vehicles, from furnaces and other equipment. A large amount of Canada's nitrogen oxide emissions originate in the United States.
- Despite major efforts to decrease acid rain, it is still killing lakes and aquatic life. 95,000 lakes in North America have been damaged by acid rain.