What is Acid Rain
Acid rain is significant for the amount of damage it causes to human life, wildlife and property. In human beings, its reactants cause respiratory irritation in the lungs when inhaled. It destroys plants by making nutrients unavailable and kills aquatic life by causing a pH imbalance in water. Buildings, monuments, sculptures and cars are not spared either as their aesthetic and monetary value is greatly reduced by acid rain. It is created when fossil fuels are burned and sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are released to the atmosphere where they combine with atmospheric water to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid which are the acid rain. The best way to combat it is by energy conservation and using alternative fuels such as solar energy. Various protocols have been adopted to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions the latest one being the Gothenburg Protocol. Incidences of acid rain are on the decline as a result of reduced emissions but the fight towards eradicating acid rain still continues because it is still a threat.
Acid rain is considered harmful for the following reasons. First, it reduces the health quality of human beings by causing diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. It is caused by pollutants of sulfur and nitrogen, which are the same culprits that irritate the lungs when inhaled leading to various respiratory diseases. Secondly, it is known to damage vegetation. When acid rain is absorbed by soil, it dissolves calcium and magnesium making it unavailable to plants which need the nutrients to grow (EPA, 2017). In soil also, it catalyzes reactions that lead to the release of aluminum which in turn reduces the water uptake of plants causing them to wither. Acid rain falling on plant leaves damages them paving way for pest infestation, diseases, insects and frost to damage the plant more because of lack of nutrients to protect it (EPA, 2017).
Acid rain falls on water bodies resulting in the imbalance of pH levels (EPA, 2017), lowering them more than normal. This is harmful because marine plant and animal life die in highly acidic conditions. Heavy downpour of acid rain also washes away soil enriched with aluminum into the water bodies which further harms aquatic life. Acid rain also causes damage to buildings, monuments, vehicles and objects often found in the open. It does this by damaging paint, causing stone structures to look old and wearing some down (EPA, 2017). It is evident that it has no advantages on the natural environment as well as the man made environment for the amount of losses it results into. People should be more environmentally conscious and reduce the amount of Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen Oxide released to the atmosphere.
Graph 1 (Goreham, 2018)
Nitrogen dioxide and Sulfur dioxide have been decreasing over the years but acid rain is still a major possibility.
It is formed by the Nitrogen dioxide and Sulfur dioxide when they combine with water to form sulfuric acid and nitrous acid respectively. Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen dioxide are formed from the combustion of fossil fuels (Nsb, 2011).
S(s) + O2 (g) = SO2 (g)
N + O2 (g) = NO2 (g)
Equation showing the formation of sulfurous acid
SO2 (g) +H2O (l) = H2SO3 (aq)
Sulfurous acid then combines with Oxygen to form Sulfuric acid
H2SO3 (aq) + O2 (g) = 2H2SO4 (aq)
Equation for the formation of nitrous acid
2NO2 (g) + H2O (l) = HNO3 (aq) + HNO2 (aq)
Nitrous acid and oxygen combine to form Nitric acid
HNO2 (aq) + O2 (g) = 2HNO3 (aq)
Nitric and Sulfuric acid are what is known as acid rain.
It has been addressed in various ways to curb its damage. The first step should be to use energy wisely. This is because nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are formed from the burning of fossil fuels. These fossil fuels provide energy to run engines for motor vehicles, run generators and other industry operations. By riding a bicycle or taking the bus, energy is conserved because fossil fuels are burned less and harmful emissions are minimized. Industries and car manufacturers can also explore other forms of energy that do not include the use of fossil fuels such as the use of solar energy or wind energy (Garden, 2019). In homes, energy conservation can be carried out by switching off unused lights, heating and cooling systems (Garden, 2019).
There have been various protocols protecting the world from acid rain. Acid rain is a global problem and cannot be assumed to harm only one part of the world as emissions can occur in the United States as an example but because they can be transported by wind, the acid rain might fall in the African continent. For this reason, the world needs measures to protect each other from acid rain through reduced emissions of Sulfur Dioxide and Nitrogen Dioxide. The United Nations Economic Commission established the Protocol on the Reduction of Sulfur Emissions in 1985 (Enviropedia, 2019). In the protocol, nations expected to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 30% by the year 1993 (Enviropedia, 2019). In 1985, not all countries were interested in meeting the protocol regulations and some did not sign the agreement. Those who signed however met the 30% reduction by the set deadline. The countries that did not sign it also caught up later and were able to meet the cut also.
A second protocol for sulfur emerged a year after the 1993 deadline and was signed in 1994. This second time, the western European countries aimed at a 70-80% reduction in sulfur emissions. Their counterparts in the east aimed at a 40-50% reduction (Enviropedia, 2019). Both groups sought to further minimize what they had achieved with the first protocol. Both groups aimed to meet the reduction before the year 2000.
The Sophia Protocol (1988) was next and it aimed at reducing nitrogen oxide by 30% before 1998. In 1999, the Gothenburg Protocol was signed to cut the emission of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia by the year 2010.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that these protocols helped in the reduction of the various emissions because as seen in graph 1, the emissions have reduced significantly. However, we are not yet safe as it continues to be a threat to human life, property and the natural world.
Enviropedia, E. (2019). International agreements on acid rain. Retrieved from http://www.enviropedia.org.uk/Acid_Rain/International_Agreements.php
EPA, U. (2017). Effects of acid rain | US EPA. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/acidrain/effects-acid-rain
Garden, H. (2019). How to prevent acid rain pollution. Retrieved from https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/repair/how-to-prevent-acid-rain-pollution.htm