Jul 04, 2016 08:30 UTC

Welcome to the 23rd weekly episode of the series We Only Have One Planet to Live On. In this episode, we study the impact of acid rains on air pollution.

As a reminder, we spoke of air pollution and its consequences. Rainfall is a divine blessing which livens up the nature and human beings, displaying the omnipotence and never-ending kindness of the one and only creator of the world, God Almighty. Everything is refreshed upon rainfall. Thick forests, green areas, and beautiful farmlands have come into existence thanks to rainfalls. However, this blessing at times turns into a detrimental phenomenon as the consequence of negligence of mankind.

The term acid rain was firstly applied by Robert Smith. He used this term in his speech at Manchester Faculty of Literature in the year 1852 AD. He noted that acid rainfalls occur due to the operation of factories and usage of coal, in addition to emission of a significant volume of chloric acid into the atmosphere. He noted that acid rain can leave destructive impacts on plants and soil.

In the year 1987, scientists concluded that carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid are the factors which determine the rate of acidity of rainfalls, because they turn into nitrate and sulfate ions, giving rise to the acidity of rain.

Despite the passage of several years from the discovery of the detrimental impacts of acid rains, this destructive phenomenon exists to this day. Usage of fossil fuels, and emission of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air, as the result of combustions in power stations, refineries, and autos; leads to formation of sulfuric acid and nitric acid. These acids move over the ground in the company of clouds, and return to the ground and soil upon rainfalls. These acids can remain in the air for several days as the result of strong winds, and can even cover hundreds of kilometers, thereby moving from one country to the other. For instance, the acid rainfalls in Scandinavian countries originate from distant regions. The studies which have been recently carried out prove that over 75% of the sulfur existing in the atmosphere of Scandinavian countries originates from other regions, such as the industrial and populous regions of England, Germany, and other West European countries.

Experts also opine that the acid rainfalls in Canada originate from other parts of North America. A similar situation exists in Asia.

Based on forecasts, the rate of emission of gases that shape acid rains in Asia will surge by two folds by the year 2020 AD.

Currently, acid rainfalls usually occur in industrial and advanced countries. Even in some Western countries, a number of groups and organizations have been established to fight against this unwanted phenomenon, and to counter the spread of acid rains. Meanwhile, the rate of acid rainfalls is on the rise in developing countries. In countries such as Zambia, South Africa,
China, India, and Brazil, acid rainfalls are a major problem and concern.

Acid rainfalls leave destructive impacts on the environment. Recent studies have revealed that forests are more exposed to the threats posed by acid rains, compared to other ecosystems. This is especially the case for forests which are located at higher altitudes; because these forests are in contact with acid steam, mist, and morning dews, which maintain further acidity. Due to acid rainfalls, some trees in forests gradually lose their leaves. Acid rains leave detrimental impacts on plants in forests, gradually destroying them. Acid rain is also destructive for farmlands. The roots of majority of plants are weakened due to acid rainfalls, preventing the plant from further growth and/or even resulting in the plant’s death. Acid rainfalls leave plants susceptible to diseases.

Acid rainfalls also leave destructive impacts on animals. The floods that result from acid rains wash up their routes and ultimately pour into lakes. Meanwhile, soil erosion separates toxic metals from soil and leads to entry of these poisonous metals into lakes. One of the toxic metals is aluminum which enters the respiratory system of fish species with water, and causes their death. The water current of the acidized lakes is usually transparent because no trace of plants and animals can be found in these lakes. On the other hand, the fish species which have been poisoned in these lakes are eaten by man; dealing a blow against the health of human beings. Consumption of the meat of birds, which feed on contaminated fish species, is also dangerous for the health of mankind, causing illnesses such as shortness of breath, inflammation of lungs, and flu.

Acid rainfalls also lead to erosion of buildings. The outer layers of buildings, bridges, and dams are eroded due to acid rainfalls. The acid rains also irreparably damage historical monuments and cultural heritages. Well-known buildings, such as the Statue of Liberty in New York, Saint Paul Church in London, and Taj Mahal in India have been chemically eroded due to acid rainfalls. Given that the outer layer of these buildings is usually made of limestone, it turns into a powder form due to chemical reactions, and falls apart.

Based on UN assessment, the environmental problems are worsening worldwide as the consequence of human actions. There are no boundaries to these threats. However, unfortunately, despite the acceptance of the importance of these environmental problems, governments have refused to be committed to countering these unwanted phenomena.

Now, the time has come for the human community to think of a major solution for its environmental problems.