Xavier Institute-XIDAS

PGDM-1st sem


ACID RAIN: Meaning, Sources, Causes, Effects & Solutions

Acid rain is rainfall that has a pH level of less than 5.6 or any other form of precipitation that is unusually acidic in nature. It is a phenomenon in which acid is thrown out from the atmosphere. In this phenomenon, acid which has formed due to pollution may return to the earth as a solid or a gas or as a liquid contained in rain. It is also called acid deposition which may be one of the following types: Wet deposition Dry deposition

Deposition Types
Wet deposition refers to acidic rain, snow, fog, cloud-water, dew, mist etc. As this acidic water flows over and through the ground, it affects a variety of plants and animals. Dry deposition refers to acidic gases and particles mixed with dust or smoke. The wind blows these acidic particles and gases onto buildings, skyscrapers, cars, homes, and trees. These deposits are then washed off by rains, after which the rain water causes the acid chemicals to become more acidic.

Acid rain has become an international issue because of its serious and definite danger to life on earth. The problem has become severe since the 1960s when fishermen noticed a sharp reduction in the quantity of fish in lakes of North America and Europe. In 1872, the Scottish chemist, Angus Robert Smith wrote a book "Air and Rain: The Beginnings of Chemical Climatology", in which he used the term "Acid Rain“.

Responsible Gases
The two primary gases responsible for acid rain are: • Sulfur dioxide (SO2) • Oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

Sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide is a colorless, prudent gas released as a byproduct of combusted fossil fuels containing sulfur. A variety of industrial processes, such as the production of iron and steel, utility factories, and crude oil processing produce this gas. In iron and steel production, the smelting of metal sulfate ore produces pure metal. This causes the release of sulfur dioxide. Metals such as zinc, nickel, and copper are commonly obtained by this process. Sulfur dioxide can also be emitted into the atmosphere by natural disasters or means i.e., volcanoes, sea spray, plankton etc.

Oxides of nitrogen
The other chemical that is also chiefly responsible for the make-up of acid rain is nitrogen oxide. Oxides of nitrogen is a term used to describe any compound of nitrogen with any amount of oxygen atoms. Nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are all oxides of nitrogen. These gases are by-products of firing processes of extreme high temperatures (automobiles, utility plants), and in chemical industries (fertilizer production).


Chemistry of Acid Rain
The main acids present in acid rain are:  Sulfuric acid (H2SO4)  Nitric acid (HNO3) Acid rain is a mild combination of mainly sulfuric and nitric acid. Sulfurous acid and nitrous acid are less stable and are present only in very low amounts.

Formation of Sulfuric acid
 Sulfur released into the atmosphere combines with atmospheric oxygen to form sulfur dioxide (SO2).  Sulfur dioxide reacts with atmospheric water to form sulfurous acid - SO2(g) + H20(l) = H2SO3(aq).  Sulfurous acid is also present in acid rain.  Sulfur dioxide gradually oxidizes to form sulfur trioxide (SO3) - 2SO2(g) = O2(g) = 2SO3(g).  Sulfur trioxide reacts with water to form Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) - SO3(g) + H20(l) = H2SO4(aq).

Formation of Nitric acid
 Nitrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen to form nitrogen dioxide (NO2).  Nitrogen dioxide reacts with water to form nitrous acid (HNO2) and nitric acid (HNO3) - 2NO2(l) + H2O(l) = HNO2(aq) + HNO3(aq)


 Liquids with a pH less than 7 are acidic, and those with a pH greater than 7 are bases. Pure water has a pH of 7.0. Normal rain is slightly acidic because carbon dioxide dissolves into it, so it has a pH of about 5.6. When the pH level of rainwater goes below 5.6, it is considered acid rain. The lower the rain's pH, the more acidic it is.

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Substances which cause Acid rain
 Carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide is released by burning coal, oil, and natural gas.  Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide is released by burning gasoline, oil, and wood.  Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): CFCs are the chemicals that are used in industry, refrigeration, air conditioning systems and consumer products.  Hazardous air pollutants (HAPS): HAPS are released into the air by sources such as chemical plants, dry cleaners, printing plants, and motor vehicles (cars, trucks, buses, and planes).  Lead: Lead is released by house and car paint as well as the manufacturing of lead batteries, fishing lures, certain parts of bullets, some ceramic ware, water pipes, and fixtures.

 Nitrogen oxides: Nitrogen Oxides are released into the air by burning fuels such as gasoline and coal.  Ozone: Ozone is released by motor vehicles, industries, burning coal, gasoline, and other fossil fuels and in the chemicals that are in hairspray and paints.  Particulate matter (PM): PM, little particles of pollution, is released by cars, trucks, and buses that are burning diesel fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, road construction, steel making, mining, and turning on fire places and wood stoves.  Sulfur dioxides: Sulfur dioxides are released by burning coal, paper production, and melting metal.  Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): VOCs are released into the air by burning gasoline, wood, coal, or natural gas, solvents, paints, glues and other products that are used at work or at home.

Certain industries, as well as emissions from vehicles give rise to increase of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the air. Coal generally contains between 2 - 3 % sulphur, and when it is burned, this sulphur is released into the atmosphere. Electric companies and other industries which burn coal cause a lot of emission of sulphur dioxide. Other industries which process raw ore containing sulphides in order to obtain copper, zinc, or nickel also cause an increase in sulphur dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The major source of emissions of nitrogen oxides into the air is from vehicles and other places where fossil fuels are burned. Forest fires, often caused by man, either deliberately or accidentally, are another source of pollution. Naturally occurring phenomena like volcanic activity, lightning, or organic decay, also gives rise to an increase in atmospheric pollutants.

Effect of acid rain
 Plants  Aquatic / Sea Life  Animals and Birds  Soil  Human Beings  Buildings & Monuments

Effect on Plants
Acid rain can deplete the nutrients in the soil, thereby depriving the plants of their food. Nutrients in soil dissolve in acid rain and get washed away before the plants can utilize them. The poor quality acidic soil is not only incapable of buffering but it also becomes intoxicated with harmful substances like mercury and aluminum, which are absorbed by the plants. Acid rain washes away important minerals from leaves. Acid rain also blocks the small pores on the leaves' surface, through which they take in carbon dioxide. With improper functioning of leaves, the growth of trees gets retarded. This results in a loss of leaves, stunted growth and damaged bark. Such trees are more prone to attacks by fungi and insects. This can even result in the death of trees. Also, the acidic fog that covers the trees, deprives the leaves of sunlight and makes them weak. As a result, the leaves are unable to perform photosynthesis, rendering the trees weak and susceptible to various diseases and infections.

Effect on Aquatic / Sea Life
All of the sea life will die when the water that they swim in gets to be too acidic. For example, all fish will die when the water goes below a pH of 4.5. Most of the frogs and insects that live around the water will also die when the water reaches a pH of 4.5. Aquatic plants will grow the best when the water is a pH between 7.0 and 9.2. If acid rain gets to be more of a problem, then all of the sea life will eventually be gone.


Effect on Animals and Birds
Animals and birds are not directly affected by the acid rain, but as they are the part of food chain, they invariably have to face the effects. Consuming plants that are intoxicated by the acid rain can produce certain problems in animals and birds. Reduction in forest also deprives them of their habitat. This may result in substantial decrease in their population. All living organisms are interdependent on each other. If a lower life form is killed, other species that depend on it will also be affected. Every animal up the food chain will be affected. Animals and birds, like waterfowl or beavers, which depends on the water for food sources or as a habitat, also begin to die. Due to the effects of acid rain, animals which depend on plants for their food also begin to suffer. Tree dwelling birds and animals also begin to languish due to loss of habitat.

Effect on Soil
Soil contains many harmful minerals such as mercury and aluminum. These elements can't be absorbed by plants and trees and are thus harmless. Upon contact with acid rain, these chemicals undergo chemical reactions with the acids. As a result, compounds of aluminum, lead and mercury are formed. Plants and trees can easily absorb these compounds. Such elements, which are extremely harmful to living forms, ultimately affect the entire food chain. These chemicals not only harm the flora, but also the animals that feed on them.


Effect on Human Beings
Acid rain is harmful to human health. Air pollutions leads to several health problems like bronchitis, asthma or damage to lungs. The sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides may lead to irritation of eyes, ears and nose and poor visibility. These pollutants can also cause throat infections and dry coughs. In addition, several problems may arise due to consumption of intoxicated plants or animals. Drinking water contaminated by aluminium, mercury and lead is highly dangerous for human health. Mankind depends upon plants and animals for food. Due to acid rain the entire fish stocks in certain lakes are wiped out. The economic livelihood of people who depend on fish and other aquatic life suffers as a result. Eating fish contaminated by mercury may cause serious health problems. In addition to loss of plant and animal life as food sources, acid rain gets into the food we eat, the water we drink, as well as the air we breathe. Due to this, asthmatic people and children are directly affected. Back

Effect on Buildings & Monuments
Acid rain can also cause damage to certain building materials, marble statues and historical monuments. This results when the sulfuric acid in the rain chemically reacts with the calcium compounds in the stones (limestone, sandstone, marble and granite) to create gypsum. This result is also commonly seen on old gravestones where the acid rain can cause the inscription to become completely illegible. Acid rain also causes an increased rate of oxidation for metals, and in particular copper and bronze. Visibility is also reduced by sulfate and nitrate aerosols and particles in the atmosphere. Many great structures in the world like Taj Mahal in India, Washington Monument, Renaissance buildings in Italy, Acropolis in Greece have all been affected by the acid rain.

Solutions to Acid Rain
 On government level  On industry level  On individual level

Solutions on government level
International understanding among developed as well as developing countries should be formed. Necessary treaties requirement. should be signed as per

Pacts / treaties should be implemented honestly to get rid of this global problem for the sake of saving mankind.


Solutions on industry level
Clean up smokestacks and exhaust pipes. Limit the quantity of emissions released in the atmosphere. Add scrubbers to smoke stacks to reduce the amount of Sulphur-dioxide dumped in the atmosphere. Specially designed catalytic converters to be used to ensure that the gases coming out from exhaust pipes of automobiles are rendered harmless. Industries which use coal as fuel should wash the coal before using it thereby reducing the amount of Sulphur present in it, and consequently the amount of emissions. Usage of coal with a low Sulphur content also reduces the problem. A reduction in use of vehicles will reduce the amount of emission caused by the vehicles.

Switch off lights, and other electrical appliances when not required . Reducing power consumption will reduce the amount of coal burnt to produce electricity, and thus reduce the amount of pollution. Use alternative energy sources. There are other sources of electricity besides fossil fuels. They include: nuclear power, hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy, and solar energy. There are also alternative energies available to power automobiles, including natural gas powered vehicles, battery-powered cars, fuel cells, and combinations of alternative and gasoline powered vehicles.

Solutions on individual level
Turn off lights, computers, and other appliances when not using them. Use energy efficient appliances: lighting, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators, washing machines, etc. Only use electric appliances when it is needed. Keep the thermostat at 68 F in the winter and 72 F in the summer. It can be turned even lower in the winter and higher in the summer when one is away from home. Insulate the home as best one can. Use of public transportation, or better yet, walk or bicycle whenever possible. Buying vehicles with low Nitrogen oxide emissions, and maintain all vehicles well. Running of the washing machine / dishwasher only with a full load. Turn off the lights in empty rooms or when one will be away from home.

Turn off the hot water tank when one will go for a long period of time . Controlled use of air conditioner as much. Install fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent light bulbs . Try to reduce, reuse and recycle as often as one can. Try not to burn a fire as often as one usually does. Make sure that vehicle’s air conditioning system isn’t leaking. For alternate fuels, trying ethanol, propane, or natural gas. Not leaving Televisions, VCRs, Microwave Ovens or Music Systems on Stand-by when not required. These are to be switched off. Become well-informed about causes, effects & solution of acid rain problem. Speaking to others about this problem. Increasing awareness is one way of ensuring that things are done to solve this global problem.