Written by Samantha Jakuboski and published on https://www.nature.com/.

An ecosystem is a community of plants, animals and other organisms along with their environment including the air, water and soil. Everything in an ecosystem is connected. If something harms one part of an ecosystem – one species of plant or animal, the soil or the water – it can have an impact on everything else.

Toxic Rain: The Effect of Acid Rain on the Environment

Two vacation places that I frequently visit all throughout the year are Southampton, Long Island, and the Adirondacks, New York. These places have become great destinations for me when I want to forget about my worries and relax. Whether I am skiing down Whiteface Mountain or boogie boarding the huge waves at Copper Beach, the placid atmosphere of these two places engulfs me and it is my way of relieving the stress that has accumulated during the past week or so. Even though these two places are far from major cities, I have recently become aware that parts of Long Island and the Adirondacks have been experiencing acid deposition for a couple of decades. This worries me, because if we humans do not do something about this quick, these places might become so polluted that we may never have the chance again to go back to the clean environments that we once enjoyed and treasured. I have known these two places since I was a few months old, and the thought that in future years they might not be the same for my grandchildren and their family is really upsetting.

So, what is acid deposition?

Acid deposition, also called acid rain, is rain or gases that have been polluted by high amounts of chemicals and acids in the atmosphere. It can result from decaying plants and animals or natural cataclysms, such as volcanoes, but the major cause of acid rain is the releasing of chemicals by humans. The main gases that lead to acid rain are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. When they come into contact with water and oxygen they turn into acids. Acid Deposition can be in the form of precipitation, which is called wet deposition, or it could be in the form of gases and microscopic particles floating the air, which is called dry deposition.

Scientists can measure how much acid is in rain or a body of water by using the pH scale. There are 14 numbers on it, ranging from 0 through 14. If a lake has a low pH, that tells us that there is a high amount of acid in the lake. If a lake has a pH 8 or above, it is alkaline, which means there is not a lot of acid in it. When a body of water has a pH of 7, it is neutral, since it is in the middle. New York State’s rain pH level is between 4 and 4.5. That is 30 times more acidic than the normal level!

Remember: All bodies of water have acid in it, but the problem with acid rain is that too much acid is accumulating, and the effects are harmful.

Where does Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide come from?

One of the central sources of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide come from power plants. When power plants generate electricity, they are burning the fossil fuel, coal. Coal is sometimes dubbed as the dirty fuel source because when it is burned, it lets out sulfur, nitrogen, and other gases. The more coal we use, the more sulfur and nitrogen we are admitting into our atmosphere. Fumes and emissions from cars and other vehicles are also another source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

Harmful effects of acid deposition

Acid deposition is very dangerous for trees and forests because it rids the soil of very important nutrients trees need to survive, like magnesium and calcium. Without these vital nutrients, the trees are more vulnerable to infections and damage by cold weather and insects. Acid rain also allows aluminum to seep into the soil, and with too much aluminum in the soil, the trees have a very hard time collecting water. Acid rain is even thought to destroy leafs’ outer-coat and when it finally wears down, the acid can make its way into the tree, which prevents photosynthesis from taking place. Photosynthesis makes food and energy for the plant, and without it, the plant or tree dies.

Not only are plants affected by acid deposition, but humans are too. If we breathe in the infinitesimal acid particles, we are prone to getting lung and respiratory problems and diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis (long-term), and pneumonia. Just in the United States and Canada alone, there were 1520 visits to the emergency room because of dry deposition. Yet, if you swim in a body of water with a high acidity level, nothing will happen to your body.

Acid Rain proposes a very harmful affect on the ecosystems as well. The acidity in the water can cause many fish and sea life to die, and that can throw off the whole food-chain. A test was done and the results, which were published in 1990, showed that most of the lakes in the Adirondack area had low pH levels and that the lakes with these low levels had no fish.

What is the United States doing to help the issues of acid disposition?

In 1985, the Clean Coal Technology Program was established to help make the burning of coal “cleaner.” Four billion dollars have been donated by the coal industry and two billion dollars by the federal government to help with this goal. There are many ways coal can become cleaner, such as crushing it and washing it before using it, because by doing so some of the sulfur is being removed. Companies also install flue gas desulfurization systems, otherwise known as a scrubber, which have the potential to remove about 90% of the sulfur dioxide before its gets emptied out into the atmosphere. This system works by spraying a limestone and water mixture on the pipe where the smoke from the coal is released. When the lime meets the smoke, with the sulfur in it, the smoke is absorbed into it and becomes a gooey liquid or powder and the most of the sulfur is trapped. You can then recycle the liquid or powder to make objects such as concrete blocks. These are just some of the ways coal can cause less pollution, and there are many more ways.

In 1990, Congress passed the Clean Air Act. This act stated that the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, should do their part and help protect the air we breathe, so the Acid Rain Program was initiated. This program strives hard to achieve both environmental and health satisfaction by limiting the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide admitted into the air by power plants.

If we reduce air pollution, acid rain might become a thing of the past! Think of a place that you really love to go and picture it polluted in future years. Not a nice thought, right? This is why we have to try our best to protect the air that we live and breathe every day!

Original post here https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/green-science/toxic_rain_the_effect_of//

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