What is acid rain?

Acid rain refers to any form of precipitation; acidic components harmful to the environment. The acidic components consist primarily of sulfuric acid and nitric acids. Acid rain begins when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are emitted into the atmosphere.

Acid rain is additionally known as acid deposition and is identified as either wet or dry deposition. Wet deposition is the most well-known form of acid rain as it includes the rain itself, along with other methods of precipitation such as snow, fog, and hail. Dry deposition of acid rain occurs from acidic particles and gases in the atmosphere that are not accompanied by moisture.

How is acid rain measured?

The amount of acid content present in a substance is measured on a pH scale. Regarding acidity and alkalinity, 7.0 is neutral, less than 7 is acidic, and higher than 7 is basic. Normal rain has an average pH of 5.6, which is slightly acidic as it contains traces of weak carbonic acid; whereas acidic rain has an average pH of 4.2 to 4.4. Wet deposition is measured by testing samples of rain to determine the number of acidic components present. While a dry deposition is measured through estimates of nitrogen and sulfur pollutants present.

Where does it come from? 

Small portions of acid rain come from natural sources such as volcanoes, however, most acid rain is contributed from the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity. This is produced by the use of vehicles and heavy equipment, and by manufacturing, oil refineries, and other industries. In 2000, it was determined that 68% of Canada’s acid rain came from industrial sources and 27% came from electric utilities. Acid rain emissions can travel hundreds to thousands of kilometers from their source, making acid rain an issue all around the globe.

What is the impact of acid rain?

Acid rain has various negative ecological effects that are observed in aquatic environments, vegetation, forests, and human health.

Acid rain can lower the pH level in bodies of water and soil which then results in drastic effects on the ecosystem. Certain plants are unable to survive in acidic environments as the acid dissolves the nutrients in the soil causing the vegetation to perish. As for the plants that do survive, they may absorb the toxins present in acid rain, thus making formerly edible plants unsafe for human consumption.

Lakes that have been affected by acid rain are unable to support the same variety of aquatic life as healthy lakes, as numerous types of amphibious creatures are unable to survive in acidic environments. Crayfish, clams and other fish populations quickly disappear or become incapable of tolerating their environment once a body of water adopts more acidic elements.

Acid rain negatively impacts forests by reducing tree vitality and regeneration. Acid rain, fog, and vapor can cause damage to the surfaces of leaves and needles on trees. It also reduces the tree’s ability to withstand stresses, such as drought, disease, insect pests, and cold weather.

Acid rain can also impact human health as the combination of sulfur dioxide, water, and other chemicals in the air result in fine particles of sulfate. These airborne particles form a key component of urban smog which is identified as a significant health hazard to humans.

How can I reduce the impact of acid rain?

The solution to the complex problem of acid rain requires action locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Each individual has a valuable opportunity to change the support of reducing the effects of acid rain. To do your part in lessening the adverse effects of acid rain, there are various strategies and habits you can adopt. Energy production creates large amounts of pollutants that cause acid rain, therefore an important step you can take is to conserve energy.

An imperative action that can be taken to reduce energy consumption is to turn off lights, computers, televisions, and other electrical equipment when it is not in use. Additionally, you can purchase equipment that uses less electricity. For instance, you can replace incandescent light bulbs with LED lighting products, which are estimated to produce light with 90% more efficiency. When looking to purchase energy-efficient items, look for products that have the ENERGY STAR® label.

Driving vehicles produces large amounts of nitrogen oxides which contribute to acid rain. Therefore, to help reduce air pollution from vehicles you can consider carpooling, walking, riding a bicycle, or taking public transportation – such as buses and trains. Shopping locally is another considerable method as it reduces transportation-related acid rain emissions being released into the atmosphere. You can also plant a garden which will not only help absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

When you are planning on purchasing a vehicle, it is important to choose one that has low emissions. Electric cars are beneficial in reducing harmful air pollutants as they have zero exhaust emissions. Also, if you use renewable energy to recharge your electric vehicle, this allows you to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Other energy-saving strategies include:

  1. Limiting your use of air conditioning in homes and vehicles.

  2. Turning off your thermostat and large appliances in your home before going on a vacation.

  3. Using alternate methods to reduce the amount of energy that is used to power appliances. This may include hanging clothing to dry instead of using a drying machine or limiting the time you watch television by reading a book instead.

  4. Cook multiple meals or multiple batches of food at a time. This is beneficial as you are not having to use as much energy to heat an appliance each time you cook.

  5. Purchase an energy-efficient thermostat, such as the Nest Thermostat. For more information on this product go to

  6. Invest in energy sources that produce renewable energy, including solar and wind power.

As individuals and communities become more aware of methods to reduce acid rain emissions and take steps to adopt changes, we can work together to contribute to the health of our planet.

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