Acid Rain Essay Research Paper Environmental Effects
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Acid Rain Essay, Research Paper Environmental Effects of Acid Rain Acidic deposition, or acid rain as it is commonly known, occurs when emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and oxidants to form various acidic compounds. These compounds then fall to the earth in either dry form (such as gas and particles) or wet form (such as rain, snow, and fog). Prevailing winds transport the compounds, sometimes hundreds of miles, across state and national borders. Electric utility plants account for about 70 percent of annual SO2 emissions and 30 percent of NOx emissions in the United States. Mobile sources (tranportation) also contribute significantly to NOx emissions. Overall, over 20 million tons of SO2 and NOx are emitted into the atmosphere each year. Acid rain causes acidification of lakes and streams and contributes to damage of trees at high elevations (for example, red spruce trees above 2,000 feet in elevation). In addition, acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and paints, including irreplaceable buildings, statues,and sculptures that are part of our nation’s cultural heritage. Prior to falling to the earth, SO2 and NOx gases and their particulate matter derivatives, sulfates and nitrates, contribute to visibility degradation and impact public health. Implementation of the Acid Rain Program under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments will confer significant benefits on the nation. By reducing SO2 and NOx, many acidified lakes and streams will improve substantially so that they can once again support fish life. Visibility will improve, allowing for increased enjoyment of scenic vistas across our country, particularly in National Parks. Stress to our forests that populate the ridges of mountains from Maine to Georgia will be reduced. Deterioration of our historic buildings and monuments will be slowed. Finally, reductions in SO2 and NOx will reduce sulfates, nitrates, and ground level ozone (smog), leading to improvements in public health. ———————————————————————— Surface Waters ———————————————————————— Acid rain primarily affects sensitive bodies of water, that is, those that rest atop soil with a limited ability to neutralize acidic compounds (called “buffering capacity”). Many lakes and streams examined in a National Surface Water Survey (NSWS) suffer from chronic acidity, a condition in which water has a constant low pH level. The survey investigated the effects of acidic deposition in over 1,000 lakes larger than 10 acres and in thousands of miles of streams believed to be sensitive to acidification. Of the lakes and streams surveyed in the NSWS, acid rain has been determined to cause acidity in 75 percent of the acidic lakes and about 50 percent of the acidic streams. Several regions in the U.S. were identified as containing many of the surface waters sensitive to acidification. They include, but are not limited to, the Adirondacks, the mid-Appalachian highlands, the upper Midwest and the high elevation West. In some sensitive lakes and streams, acidification has completely eradicated fish species, such as the brook trout, leaving these bodies of water barren. In fact, hundreds of the lakes in the Adirondacks surveyed in the NSWS have acidity levels indicative of chemical conditions unsuitable for the survival of sensitive fish species. Emissions from U.S. sources also contribute to acidic deposition in eastern Canada, where the soil is very similar to the soil of the Adirondack Mountains, and the lakes are consequently extremely vulnerable to chronic acidification problems. The Canadian government has estimated that 14,000 lakes in eastern Canada are acidic. Streams flowing over soil with low buffering capacity are equally as susceptible to damage from acid rain as lakes are.