Friday, March 6, 2015

It’s a Little Ironic: The Connection between Acid Rain and Soil Contamination

Compartmentalization is, in a way, part of being human. We often fit aspects of our lives into neat little boxes, separate from one another. We separate our jobs from our personal lives, our siblings from our friends, and so on. When it comes to thinking about pollution, there is little exception. However, pollution is not an issue that be neatly squared away. Each different form of it may seem distinct and unrelated from the rest, but the irony is this: the entire world is connected and pollution in any given form can harm it.

Acid rain is an example of a pollution problem that affects a number of different environments; not just rivers and oceans. In a nutshell, acid rain, “describes any form of precipitation with high levels of nitric and sulfuric acids. It can…occur in the form of snow, fog, and tiny bits of dry material that settle to Earth” (NationalGeographic). To put it more simply, it can be any form of snow, rain, or fog that becomes highly acidic and capable of harming the environment. It occurs when, “gases react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form various acidic compounds. The result is a mild solution of sulfuric acid and nitric acid. When sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released from power plants and other sources, prevailing winds blow these compounds across state and national borders, sometimes over hundreds of miles” (EPA). Some acid rain occurs naturally, through rotting vegetation or erupting volcanoes, but, “the biggest culprit is the burning of fossil fuels by coal-burning power plants, factories, and automobiles” (National Geographic). With this information established, we can agree that acid rain is a problem. But what does this have to do with soil contamination?

The answer isn’t pretty. When acid rain falls back to the Earth it can fall anywhere; on homes, parks, farms, forests, and by extension, the very soil itself. It can seriously harm waterways and erode buildings, but when it gets into the ground it can disturb the delicate balance of the soil. When soil becomes more acidic, “the changing pH changes the structure of the soil itself by altering its ability to absorb and channel water to the roots and surrounding watersheds. Soil organisms necessary to the maintenance and growth of the soil are killed or become nonfunctional…earthworms no longer aerate the soil, and microorganisms no longer exist to break down organic matter and rock, thus soil is not turned, and new soil is not formed. The earth becomes hard, the water runs off, plants dehydrate, growth is stunted, seedlings fail, soil erodes and washes away” (Kaplan). Soil that becomes acidic literally kills the small organisms that keep it favorable for plant life and renders it unable to absorb water properly. For endangered forests and crucial farmland already harmed by acid rain, the changing soil can push them right over the brink.

But what can we do in the meantime? Aside from making an effort to learn as much as we can about the issue, we can take the time and effort to teach others that pollution, in all its forms, hurts everyone. It is not enough to focus on one type of pollution; we can make a greater difference when we focus on fighting all forms of it. 

To learn more about different pollution problems, visit the EPA's site here, or to learn more about acid rain, click here.  



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