Acid rain is any precipitation whose pH is lower than that of ordinary rainwater (Hairston, Shaw, Brantley, & Beck, 2003). The air consists of carbon dioxide gas that normally reacts with rainwater in the atmosphere to form carbonic acid, which is a weak acid. Therefore, the pH of ordinary precipitation varies from 5.5 to 5.6. Conversely, the pH of acid rain varies from 4.0 to 4.6 (Hairston et al., 2003). In extreme cases, the pH of the acid rain may be as low as 3.0. Acid precipitation may be in the form of snowfall, hail, sleet, dew, ice, and smog. The combustion of fossil fuels that contain sulfur and nitrogen leads to the formation of oxides of these elements, which are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. These gases may remain in the air for long periods and later liquefy to form acid rain. This paper looks at the effects of acid rain on the environment as well as the research findings of acid rain in Montgomery, Alabama.
Effects of Acid Rain on the Environment
Acid rain harms the environment in three major ways that include plant damage, soil and water contamination as well as the enlistment of trace elements. Acid rain corrodes the delicate outer cuticle covering of leaves thereby rendering the leaves susceptible to the loss of essential nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium (Lane, 2003). The presence of acid rain in the plant environment also hampers the germination of seeds. Mature trees, particularly those growing in regions of high altitudes usually manifest the effects of acid rain by the death of leaves at the crown. Acid rain leads to the degradation of nutrients in the soil. For example, the dissipation of aluminum in the soil is enhanced by acidic conditions. Consequently, high aluminum levels in the soil prevent the healthy growth of plants.
Soil damage from acid rain occurs when minerals in the soil dissolve at a faster rate than is normal leading to the escape of nutrients. Ordinary rainwater causes nutrients to dissolve at a pace that is suitable for plants, which then use up the nutrients as required. However, the acidic nature of acid precipitation hastens the entire process leading to the loss of nutrients and exhaustion of the natural mineral stores in the soil (Park, 2013). Acid rain ultimately alters the pH of soil especially in thin soils that have an impaired capacity to counter the acidity of the precipitation. In addition, elevated levels of acidity in the soil have adverse effects on soil microorganisms, which form the initial link to the food chain in the ecosystem.
Water resources may also suffer the effects of acid rain leading to the death of aquatic organisms. Though some water animals can survive the increased acidity, their reproductive cycles remain affected. Eggs may fail to hatch or the few eggs that hatch may fail to develop into adults due to the harsh conditions.
The environmental effects of acid rain ultimately affect human life through the reduced capacity of food production. Acid precipitation also lowers the quality of water for domestic use by introducing trace metals, which are toxic. Acid rain reacts with roofing and building materials hence leading to the corrosion of buildings and other creative works.
It is established that the state of Alabama, which includes the town of Montgomery has had a history of acid rain since the 1980s. Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency has placed this state among American states that are prone to acid rain (U.S. EPA, 2014). A study conducted in 1981 revealed that the rainwater in this state had a pH of 4.6, which falls within the pH limits of acid rain (New York Times, 1981). The prevalence of acid rain in the region is attributed to the production of sulfur dioxide from the incineration of relic fuels in the surrounding industries. The emissions from industries in the southeastern part of the USA drift away to Canada leading to water and air pollution. Montgomery town has several manufacturing firms including metal industries, lumber processing factories, and companies that deal with the production of furniture. In addition, the town is endowed with rich, black soils that favor agriculture. Therefore, there are a number of food processing industries that handle agricultural products.
The results of this investigation corroborate the supposition that areas with high industrial activity are likely to have high incidences of acid rain. These observations are in line with the theory of the formation of acid rain from acidic gases in the air, which come from the combustion of fossil fuels.
The rising need for energy from fossil fuels in industrial processes continues to pose a challenge to environmental conservation due to the formation of acid rain. The formation of acid rain can be countered by using alternative sources of energy such as electricity or energy from the sun and wind. Such energy sources have installation and maintenance costs. However, the benefits of their long-term use outweigh their shortcomings because they do not generate acid-producing pollutants. Government regulations should also enforce policies that regulate the large-scale use of fossil fuels in industries to mitigate the problem of acid rain.
Hairston, J. E., Shaw, J. N., Brantley, E., & Beck, J. M. (2003). Acid rain: An overview. Web.
Lane, C. N. (2003). Acid rain: Overview and abstracts. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
New York Times. (1981). States are rated in acid rain study. Web.
Park, C. C. (2013). Acid rain (Routledge Revivals): Rhetoric and reality. New York: Routledge.
U.S. EPA. (2014). Acid rain. Web.