Adverse effects acid rain

Adverse effects acid rain

    Surface waters and aquatic animals
    • Both the lower pH and higher aluminum concentrations in surface water that occur as a result of acid rain can cause damage to fish and other aquatic animals. At pHs lower than 5 most fish eggs will not hatch and lower pHs can kill adult fish. As lakes and rivers become more acidic biodiversity is reduced.

    • Acid rain has eliminated insect life and some fish species, including the brook trout in some lakes, streams, and creeks in geographically sensitive areas, such as the Adirondack Mountains of the United States. However, the extent to which acid rain contributes directly or indirectly via runoff from the catchment to lake and river acidity (i.e., depending on characteristics of the surrounding watershed) is variable. The United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) website states: "Of the lakes and streams surveyed, acid rain caused acidity in 75 percent of the acidic lakes and about 50 percent of the acidic streams".


    • Soil biology and chemistry can be seriously damaged by acid rain. Some microbes are unable to tolerate changes to low pHs and are killed. The enzymes of these microbes are denatured (changed in shape so they no longer function) by the acid. The hydronium ions of acid rain also mobilize toxins such as aluminium, and leach away essential nutrients and minerals such as magnesium.
    2 H+ (aq) + Mg2+ (clay) 2 H+ (clay) + Mg2+ (aq)
    • Soil chemistry can be dramatically changed when base cations, such as calcium and magnesium, are leached by acid rain thereby affecting sensitive species, such as sugar maple (Acer saccharum).

    Forests and other vegetation

    • Adverse effects may be indirectly related to acid rain, like the acid's effects on soil or high concentration of gaseous precursors to acid rain. High altitude forests are especially vulnerable as they are often surrounded by clouds and fog which are more acidic than rain. Other plants can also be damaged by acid rain, but the effect on food crops is minimized by the application of lime and fertilizers to replace lost nutrients. In cultivated areas, limestone may also be added to increase the ability of the soil to keep the pH stable, but this tactic is largely unusable in the case of wilderness lands. When calcium is leached from the needles of red spruce, these trees become less cold tolerant and exhibit winter injury and even death.

    Human health

    • Scientists have suggested direct links to human health. Fine particles, a large fraction of which are formed from the same gases as acid rain (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide), have been shown to cause illness and premature deaths such as cancer and other diseases.

    Effect of acid rain on statues
    • Acid rain can also damage buildings and historic monuments, especially those made of rocks such as limestone and marble containing large amounts of calcium carbonate. Acids in the rain react with the calcium compounds in the stones to create gypsum, which then flakes off.
    CaCO3 (s) + H2SO4 (aq) CaSO4 (aq) + CO2 (g) + H2O (l)
    • The effects of this are commonly seen on old gravestones, where acid rain can cause the inscriptions to become completely illegible. Acid rain also increases the oxidation rate of metals, in particular copper and bronze.

    Affected areas

    • Particularly badly affected places around the globe include most of Europe (particularly Scandinavia with many lakes with acidic water containing no life and many trees dead) many parts of the United States (states like New York are very badly affected) and South Western Canada. Other affected areas include the South Eastern coast of China and Taiwan.

    Potential problem areas in the future

    • Places like much of South Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand), Western South Africa (the country), Southern India and Sri Lanka and even West Africa (countries like Ghana, Togo and Nigeria) could all be prone to acidic rainfall in the future

Last modified: Wednesday, 29 February 2012, 9:20 PM