Hello, My Name Is: "Acid Rain"

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Reluctantly, I’ll admit that up until a few weeks ago, I believed that acid rain was one environmental problem that society had under control.  Possibly like many others, I had heard about the 1970 version of the Clean Air Act which helped to decrease the amount of atmospheric sulfur dioxide (SO2), which ends up being a large component of acid rain.

Just look around today.  Do you see any obvious evidence of acid rain in your neighborhood?  In the absence of paint peeling from cars (something seen on the East coast in the seventies), people may erroneously believe that this problem has been solved.  But it turns out that acid rain is even more of an issue today than it used to be (and the automobile industry has caught on and changed the formula of their paint).

Why don’t many people know this?  I believe this is because there has been a name change.  While atmospheric SO2 levels have decreased since regulations have gone into effect, the amount of human-caused nitric acid (NO) and ammonia (NH4) has increased dramatically and currently contribute to a huge problem termed “nitrogen deposition.”

But this is just a new name for an old problem that is even bigger than before; a process that is changing the properties of the soil to where all of our food can be traced and affecting the biodiversity of the planet in a major way.  I propose a name change.  While “nitrogen deposition” may be a more descriptive term, it certainly doesn’t hit a note with the general public like “acid rain” did a generation ago, and this milder name allows people to look past a concerning issue.

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Acid rain is a rain or any other form of precipitation that is unusually acidic, i.e. elevated levels of hydrogen ions (low pH). It can have harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals, and infrastructure through the process of wet deposition.

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