The unhealthy effects of acid rain
We've heard this term before, acid rain. This hazard is not exclusive to urban areas either. What is it and how does it form? Let's find out.
Did you know that all rain is somewhat acidic? Acid rain occurs when carbon dioxide in the air slightly lowers the pH levels. Naturally-occurring acidic rain has little effect on humans. On the other hand, industrial pollutants can cause extremely acidic rain.
Acid rain effects can be harmful to both humans and the environment. Below are some harmful effects of acidic rain. Read on to learn more about how acid rain and pollution go hand-in-hand.
Photo by Matthew Henry
What causes acid rain
In a world free of pollutants, acid rain would be a rare occurrence. Volcanic eruptions and vegetation rot cause small amounts of acid rain. Snow can melt and release high levels of acidic water from prior acidic rainfall, as well. Unfortunately, industrial pollutants like coal-burning plants and cars or buses release harmful amounts of sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides each day. Both combine with carbon dioxide in the air and cause rainwater's pH to drop. Rainwater that would otherwise be safe suddenly becomes a health hazard.
Photo by Matthew Henry
How acid rain harms humans
Acidic water poses few immediate health risks to humans. The most immediate acid rain effects are manmade pollutants. Industrial pollutants from sulfates and nitrates that people unknowingly breathe in. Studies show increased risks for heart attacks and respiratory problems for people exposed to these particles. Nitrogen oxides in pollutants also cause unusual acid rain effects like ground-level ozone to occur. Direct exposure to ozone can cause emphysema or even chronic pneumonia. Acid rain in higher altitudes can turn into a low fog. Acidic rain in the form of fog can irritate the eyes and limit visibility.
Photo by Inge Maria
How acid rain harms the environment
Acid rain can break down chemicals in the ground, releasing minerals and causing acidity in the soil. Leaves may wilt and die when exposed to acid rain. One of the most devastating effects of acid rain? Acidic soil yields little growth. Crops can fail when acid rain runoff pulls aluminum and other minerals from the soil. Other effects of acid rain include disturbances in moving or still waters. Alkaline water has a pH of 7 or higher. Water below a pH of 5 is harmful to most fish. Aquatic organisms filter the acidic water into their body when breathing and can become sick or even die. Extremely alkaline or acidic water can also kill fish eggs. In some cases, large populations of fish have died because of acid rain effects, taking the fish industry by surprise.
Photo by Inge Maria
Ways we can protect ourselves against extreme acid rain
Environmental regulations have helped lessen the occurrence of acid rain in the last century. The Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement of 1991 helped push North America away from harmful industrial practices that could lead to acid rain. Public efforts continue to combat practices that lead to acidic rain. Still, you want to be ready before acid rain affects your area. Those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory issues may want to stay indoors when pollution or other acid rain effects are high in their area. Replace air filters to maintain the best indoor air quality. You shouldn't need any protective gear besides your typical rain gear.
Phoo by David Clarke
Stay safe one forecast at a time
Living well means better awareness of how our environment affects us and vice versa. When spring rains come, you don't want to look out in fear of acid rain. If anything, you want to be able to enjoy the rainwater and put those new rainboots to good use!Check our daily alerts for warnings about pollutants. We check air quality and rainwater daily so you can protect yourself from the elements.
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