Definition of Acid Rain and Its Effects

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The purpose of this study is to identify the gray areas that cause Acid rain and seek to answer the research question that whether these are solely connected to the Industrial Activities of Humanity. The goal is to analyze the ill effects of Acid rain and the way forward.

Acid Rain

The term Acid rain is referred to any sort of precipitation that carries acidic ingredients like acids of Sulfur and Nitrogen. It is also termed Acid deposition. This is not necessarily in fluid form, it may include gases, fog, rain, and snow. Acid rain may be categorized as

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a. Wet deposition. It is referred to as liquid containing acid deposition

b. Dry deposition. It is referred to gases containing acid deposition

It possesses a pH of about 5.2 or below, which is produced due to the production of Oxides of Nitrogen and Sulfur as a result of human interaction with nature mainly by burning fossil fuels.

The amount of Hydrogen ions (H+) in a solution defines its acidity. Any solution containing a pH less than 7 is considered to be Acidic and each unit below 7 is 10 times more acidic and will have 10 times more Hydrogen ions (H+) than the unit above it.

In 1852, a Scottish chemist named Robert Angus Smith coined the term Acid rain and he was then called “Father of Acid rain. He agreed on the term while conducting his studies near industrial areas in England. In 1872, he compiled his research with the name ‘Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology.’

The Researchers of the US started working on this issue in the mid-Nineties and by the end of 1970, Acid rain was renowned as an Environmental and Zonal issue that is deteriorating America and Europe.

According to an article developed in 2014 in the Journal Nature Geoscience, 65.5 million years ago an asteroid eliminated the dinosaurs. This happened due to the blasting of SO3 that on reaction with air converted into H2SO4 and resulted in a cloudburst of acid rain.

Over 4 billion years or even before that, it is suspected that the air might have contained 10,000 more-time CO2 than today. In the institution of Wisconsin-Madison, the Geologists have compiled this study by studying rocks, and then results were published in a 2008 Issue of the Journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. John valley narrated that at those high levels of CO2 in the air, there would be ferocious acid rain and the extreme greenhouse effect. This condition can even dissolve rocks. (Staff Live Science, 2008)

Acid rain emerges as an international issue since the factors that have caused damage to air and resulted in air pollution are not confined to one country or region only. These factors are triggered by humanity by an increase in urbanization, industrialization, and men’s interaction with Nature. Several programs are undertaking to assess and monitor the air condition. However, the major focus is on the monitoring of pollutants like Sulfur/Nitrogen oxides and Carbon monoxide. Globally, countries have joined their heads to minimize Men’s interaction with the environment like the speedy spread of industrialization and urbanization along with the utilization of fossil fuel. Pollution in one country is sometimes the result of activities in another country, thus it has become an international issue.

Fountainhead of Acid Rain

The acidification caused by artificial resources is huge and is the major cause of acid deposition. These sources include extracting metal ores and utilization of fossil fuels like gas, petrol, coal, etc. A study in the US shows that 70 percent of Oxides of S and 20 percent of NOx are produced as a result of Electric utilities While the fossil fuel burnt accounts for 60 percent of NOx (Alina Bradford – Live Science Contributor July 14, 2018, Planet Earth). These oxides on reaction with water in atmosphere results in Acid rain.

Many spontaneous causes result in acidification such as,

i. Rain, which is an example of weak acid since it dissolves CO2 from the atmosphere and results in H2CO3.

ii. Volcanos produce HNO3, HCL and H2SO4 depending on the specific emission from specific volcanos.

iii. Lightning causes the conversion of naturally occurring Nitrogen (N2) and wildfire causes the conversion of organic N2 into NOx.

However, the acidification caused by natural resources are very small and they never exceed the limit of lowering pH than 5.2, while

Effects of Acid Rain

Acid rain is a serious concern as it has a lot of effects on Aquatic life, Human health, Buildings, and the Ecosystem. However, the intensity of the impact depends on the amount of acid sacking and the presence of neutralizing factors in that scenario. An area that contains neutralizing compounds can sustain 100 years of acid precipitation without any major damage while areas which are less prone to acid are more exposed to damage.

1. Human Health affected by Acid rain

Human health is indirectly affected by acid rain since it is an invisible form of pollution. Humans are affected due to contact or utilization of the substances which are already affected by Acid rain like water and food. Oxides of sulfur affect the human body in gaseous form, if present in air above 1.6 ppm, it becomes difficult to breathe and causes irritation of the eyes. Oxides of sulfur are dangerous in their combination with mists and aerosols. Eye and skin irritations resulted due to the presence of polluted droplets (Wilkening, 1983). Some indirect effects include intake of metals which are heavy and toxic (Cd, Zn, Fe, Mn, Al) by the human body which are separated in soil due to acid rain and then enters the body by drinking water, eating vegetables and fishes (Rhetoric and Reality, 1983). These metals on entering body cause several problems like Asthma, headache, Dry coughs, Eyes, Nose, and throat irritations.

2. Acid rain, A woe for Aquatic life.

Aqua systems on exposure to acid rain become acidic as they don’t have the much-neutralizing capability as compared to soil and plants. It changes the complete scenario of the water body. A survey revealed that during 1991-1994, 41% of the Adirondack lake become either chronically acidic or become prone to acidification (Driscoll, 2002) Some lakes are found acidic in Denmark, Belgium, Netherland, and Germany which are affected by Acid rain (Agrawal*, 2006). Acid rain affects all the members of aquatic life whether they are amphibians or invertebrates. About 20% of the lakes in Norway lost their fishes during the early 1970s (Acidification of Georgian Bay Rivers Estimated by Modifications of the Wright-Henriksen Model, 1985). In Canada, a lot of lakes became devoid of fishes due to lake acidification. The increased deposition of acid has increased Reproductive failure, reduced growth rate, increased skeletal deformities, and intense mortality rate of fishes.

Acidification of water bodies has affected amphibian life as well. Species of the amphibian family-like frogs, salamanders, and toads are much sensitive to low pH (Agrawal*, 2006). Snails and phytoplankton fell below pH 5.5 and at pH below 4.0, all the species of fish reduced as at this level of acidity their embryos failed to become mature (T.R.Carrick, 1979). Acidification has affected Mollusks and it deformed their shells and are not found in Ontario lakes with pH below 5 (Roff and Kwiatkowski, 1977)

3. Effect on Materials and Buildings.

The impact of acid rain on the buildings, monuments, and infrastructures which are made of limestone and marble containing a large amount of carbonate has been recognized and hundreds of studies are being conducted to rectify this issue damaging the historical monuments and buildings. In urban areas, the buildings made of concrete are affected due to acid rain for a long time (Investigation of the effects of acid rain on the deterioration of cement concrete using accelerated tests established in the laboratory, 2004). Cement and concrete are affected due to exposure to Acid precipitation of pH between 3.0 to 5.0 (Disintegration of concrete construction induced by acid mine drainage attack)

Tsujino (1995) searched the impact of dry and wet deposition by exposing materials like bronze, copper, marble in different conditions and it was found that the damage is directly connected with local pollution. The impact of acid deposition is not only related to buildings only, but it affects Paintings, Fabrics, Drawings, Antique costumes, Museums, and Religious places. Corrosion of galvanized steel structure was found by Economic Commission for European Study in 1983 (Rhetoric and Reality, 1983)

4. Other Effects of Acid rain

Acid rain is the root cause of many issues and is speedily affecting the environment. It results in changing the chemistry of soil by increasing the exchange of hydrogen ions and nutrient cations which causes deficiency of these Nutrients (Breeman, 1984). It also affects the crop plants, forests, and Physiological activities of animals. The landscapes which are acid sensitive are affected due to the reduced pH of the water and lower biodiversity as a result of acid deposition. The trees become less immune and susceptible to the damages like drought, pests, and extreme cold. The areas which are affected by acid rain suffer soil depletion by minimizing plant nutrients like calcium and magnesium with the release of aluminum which is bound to soil particles and rocks. It also causes corrosion of the surfaces, which when exposed to air pollution cause deterioration of Marble and Limestone monuments and infrastructures

Measures to take the edge off Acid Rain

Acid rain is a serious concern that is not confined to one region only since it affects the complete environment and Ecosystem. To Minimize the cause and effect of Acid rain there is several ways forward.

1. To put an International effort as in 1984, when a conference was held in Ottawa on acidification and that resulted in 30 percent Club formation. A pledge was made by the member countries that their emission of acid-forming will be reduced by 30 percent in 10 years. As of today, Canada is the major source and the victim of acid rain. Great damage has been done to the northeast USA by acid rain as 10 states have faced rain of pH less than 4.0. China and Japan have attained success in avoiding acid deposition by reducing the emission of oxides to quite an acceptable level.

2. Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) can remove the Oxides of Sulfur from the waste gases of different industries. It consists of a reaction tower with a fan and wet scrubber to extract stack gases from Plant into the tower.

3. In Asia, Regional Acidification Information and Simulation (RAINS) model was formed to understand the Acid rain phenomenon and to articulate strategies to overcome this issue. This computerized scientific tool can help policymakers to assess future trends of Emission, Transport and their impact on the environment. This can also be utilized to reduce emission by taking into account eration, Atmospheric process, and control costs for Oxides of Sulfur and Nitrogen.

4. Alternate mode of transportation can reduce the use of fossil fuel as cars are the major contributor to air pollution and thus Acid rain. Using public transport, bikes and even feet can reduce our reliance on the use of fossil fuel. This will decrease the consumption of energy sources, traffic issues, air pollution and will add to the health.

5. United States formed and mandated the National acid precipitation assessment program (NAPAP) to carry out a 10-year economic, scientific, and technological study of the issue of Acid rain under the Acid Precipitation Act of 1980. The study aimed to identify the regions affected, the origin of emission, effects, and emission control technologies. After a long debate, legislation was done to control the emission of Oxides of Sulfur and Nitrogen by the name of Acid Deposition Control Program and was included in the 1990 clean air amendments.

The goal was to reduce the emission of Sulfur and Nitrogen oxides by 10 million tons produced from electricity-generating equipment and to achieve significant Health and Environmental benefits. This program also encouraged pollution prevention and energy efficiency.

6. Emission control of NOx and S Oxide is the most important and real solution to Acid rain. The use of fuel containing sulfur is not very practical however it can also be reduced. Control of combustion temperatures can reduce the emission of Oxides of Nitrogen and Sulfur. This can also be controlled by the use of fuels that don’t produce oxides.

7. Utilization of other energy sources other than fossil fuel to generate electricity. Solar, Hydropower, Geothermal, and Wind are the best options available. Natural gas, Batteries, and fuel cell are also an alternative for the production of Electricity. This will not only reduce the production of oxides but will also add to energy production from natural resources.

8. Liming the water bodies can decrease the damage. Sodium carbonate, limestone, Caustic soda and slacked lime can raise the pH of water that is acidified (Khemani, 1967). It is an expensive method but can cure a lot of damages. It must be repeated after every 3-6 years to keep it effective.


The rise of economic development and increased energy consumption in the world has a direct impact on the utilization of fossil fuel. Thus, oxides of Sulfur and Nitrogen are produced which have a quite worse effect on the environment and their consequences have increased quite significantly during the few last decades. Acid rain is one of them and has a deleterious effect on the ecosystem, which includes reduction of aquatic life, effect on human health, reduction in flora and fauna, affecting buildings, etc.

The developed world is tackling the Acid rain problem by minimizing the factors that are the root causes of Acid rain like Reduced emission of gases. In the developing world, such efforts are required to avoid the potential problems faced by the Urbanized and Industrialized world.

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