Even if you have only a passing interest in environmentalism, you’re likely to have heard the term “acid rain.” This is a general term that is used to describe any form of precipitation containing nitric or sulfuric acid. Acid rain creates devastating effects on the planet, as the pH of ponds, rivers, streams, and lakes is altered, and the surrounding ecosystems are impacted. This means that if you want to care for your local environment, you need to understand the basics of acid rain.

What Causes Acid Rain?

Small amounts of acid rain can occur naturally due to volcanic activity. Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels causes far greater quantities of acid rain. Approximately two thirds of all acid rain is linked to burning fuels to generate electricity, but vehicle emissions are also a contributing factor. Acid rain can also be created from oil refinery processes and industrial activities.

When nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide are released into the environment, it is transported by air currents and wind. These compounds then react with oxygen, water, and any other airborne substances to create nitric and sulfuric acid that is dissolved in raindrops that fall back to the ground.

Acid rain is not a local issue; it is a global problem. Once they are airborne, the acid can travel a great distance. This means that the industrial emissions in one country can affect the environment in other countries. <

Acidity is measured by pH, with 7.0 as neutral, lower than 7.0 acidic and higher than 7.0 alkaline. While you may assume that water is a neutral pH, the dissolved carbon dioxide in the rain, naturally creates a slightly acidic pH of approximately 5.6. Once nitric and sulfuric acids are added into the mix, the acidity level of rain can drop to 4.2.

When acid rain hits the ground, it drains through the soil stripping minerals and nutrients from the soil. Ultimately, it is deposited in water systems, which can be devastating to ecosystems. When pH levels reach 5.0, most fish species eggs will fail to hatch, and if the conditions become more acidic, adult fish will begin to die. Additionally, acid rain starves trees and plants of nutrients, causing them to wither and die.

How Acid Rain Affects Humans

Acid rain can also impact human health and our manmade structures. Acid deposition corrodes paint, stone, and metal and is having a slow eroding effect on some of the greatest monuments in the world. Nitric and sulfuric acid have been linked to lung and heart disorders, and there is a connection to emphysema and asthma. The mineral leaching ability of acid rain can also lead to an increased risk of hard water.

If you have concerns about acidic or hard water, you should speak to a water treatment professional. A fully WQA certified technician can assess your water and guide you through the treatment options that meet or possibly even exceed the industry standards.

By Terry Reeh, EcoWater Systems of Nebraska. 

With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative.  Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.