Friday, June 17, 2011

Acid Rain

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Are You Informed About Acid Rain?

“Acid rain is simply rain which is acidic. The rain becomes acidic because of gases which dissolve in the rain water to form various acids. Rain is naturally slightly acidic and thus it has a pH of around 6.0 and in some parts of the world it can be as low as 4.0 (this is typical around volcanoes, where the Sulphur dioxide and hydrogen Sulphide form Sulphuric acid in the rain).Before the Industrial Revolution, the pH of rain was generally between 5 and 6, so the term acid rain is now used to describe rain with a pH below 5.

Acid rain is a broad term used to describe several ways that acids precipitates from the atmosphere. A more precise term is acid deposition, which has two parts wet and dry.

Wet deposition refers to acidic rain, fog, and snow. As this acidic water flows over and through the ground, it affects a variety of plants and animals. The strength of the effects depend on many factors, including how acidic the water is, the chemistry and buffering capacity of the soils involved, and the types of fish, trees, and other living things that rely on the water.

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Dry deposition refers to acidic gases and particles. About half of the acidity in the atmosphere falls back to earth through dry deposition. The wind blows these acidic particles and gases onto buildings, cars, homes, and trees. Dry deposited gases and particles can also be washed from trees and other surfaces by rainstorms. When that happens, the runoff water adds those acids to the acid rain, making the combination more acidic than the falling rain alone. (Figure.1)

Acid rain occurs when these gases react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form various acidic compounds. These reactions take hours or even days during which polluted air may move hundreds of kilometres. Thus acid rain can fall far from the source of pollution. Sunlight increases the rate of most of these reactions and prevailing winds blow the acidic compounds across the land.

When mist or fog droplets condense they remove pollutants from the air and can become strongly acidic than acid rain. Even snow can be acidic. (acid snow)

The main sources of SO are in South Africa by coal-fired power stations, metal workings industries and nitrogen oxides emissions are from vehicles and fuel combustions. Also there are sources in Scandinavian countries and Scotland which also has a very similar ratios, while the north-eastern USA has 6 percent Sulphuric acid, percent nitric acid and 6 percent hydrochloric acid. These gases are produced almost entirely from burning fossil fuels, mainly in power stations and road transport (Figure 1.)

What’s all the fuss about?

Acid deposition has a variety of effects, including damage to forests and soils, fish and other living things, materials, and human health. Acid rain also reduces how far and how clearly we can see through the air, an effect called visibility reduction. By increasing the acidity in forests, soils, limestone and marble buildings, fish, and other living things it increases the death of these abiotic and biotic activities.

Acid Raid Fact file

• Since Australia is sparsely populated, its cities are far apart and it has no neighbours, the readings are not very high. In areas where there are smelters and power stations however, the problem of acid rain is far greater.

• Across 15 European countries, 7,000 sq. miles are showing signs of forest death syndrome.

• In southern Norway, all lakes in a 1,000 sq. kilometre area are devoid of fish, with 80% of lakes are either dead or on the critical list.

• In southern Sweden, 18,000 lakes now support no fish life.

Chongging, a commercial city in western China is perhaps the acid rain capital of the world, the rain there sometimes being so acid that it can dissolve steel.

• Manchester has been described as the acid capital of Europe.

Britains trees are amongst the unhealthiest in Europe yet the country remains the largest sulphur dioxide polluter in the region.

• In North America, 60% of red spruces in New England Mountains have died and in Ontario sugar maples are dying.

Since acid rain is the most serious consequence of air pollution several Governments in the world have decided to create policies to strictly reduce SO and NOx emissions.

In Europe a series of agenda setting meetings were held under the auspices of the Economic Commission of Europe (ECE), out of which came the Convention on Long-Range Trans-boundary Pollution. It was signed November 1-14, 17 and ratified March 15, 18 by all the European states. Following ratification, member states of the treaty began working out details for specific reductions goals. Participants were asked to obligate themselves to a thirty percent reduction in sulphur emissions, based on 180 levels, during the next decade. Support for this alteration, although not universal, was wide-spread and growing. Within two years, the Protocol to the 17 Convention on Long-Range Trans-boundary Air Pollution on the Reduction of Sulphur Emissions or their Transboundary Fluxes by at least 0 Per Cent was drawn up. It was signed in Helsinki, July , 185, and ratified September , 187.

Chinas national legislature, through its model of Cleaner Production and other attempts to reduce air pollution, has significantly altered the Law on the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution, which was just revised five years ago. Suggested amendments include banning the discharge of air pollutants above a certain level, imposing heavy fines for violators of the law, and replacing coal combustion with clean energy resources such as renewables and natural gas. On a regional level, China, South Korea and Japan have agreed to launch a five-year project to control trans-boundary air pollutants.

What can we do?

It is a global problem which overall affects our lives. Ozone impacts on human health include a number of morbidity and mortality risks associated with lung inflammation, including asthma and emphysema.

As individuals it may seem like there is not much that one can do to stop acid deposition. However, like many environmental problems, acid deposition is caused by the cumulative actions of millions of individual people. Therefore, each individual can also reduce their contribution to the problem and become part of the solution. One of the first steps is to understand the problem and its solutions.

Individuals can contribute directly by conserving energy, since energy production causes the largest portion of the acid deposition problem.

For example, you can

• Turn off lights, computers, and other appliances when youre not using them

• Use energy efficient appliances lighting, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators, washing machines, etc.

• Only use electric appliances when you need them.

• Insulate your home as best you can.

• Carpool, use public transportation, or better yet, walk or bicycle whenever possible

• Buy vehicles with low NOx emissions, and maintain all vehicles well.

• Look for products bearing the EcoLogo. They minimize the use of environmentally hazardous substances and maximize energy efficiency and the use of recycled materials.

• Be well-informed.

By reducing Acid Rain, which is conserving energy you are not only helping the environment but yourself in the long term, after all it’s the environment that keeps you alive so think globally and act locally. 

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