Acid Rain

acid rain or acid deposition, form of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, or hail) containing high levels of sulfuric or nitric acids (pH below 5.5–5.6). Produced when sulfur dioxide and various nitrogen oxides combine with atmospheric moisture, acid rain can contaminate drinking water, damage vegetation and aquatic life, and erode buildings and monuments. Automobile exhausts and the burning of high-sulfur industrial fuels are thought to be the main causes, but natural sources, such as volcanic gases and forest fires, may also be significant. It has been an increasingly serious problem since the 1950s, particularly in the NE United States, Canada, and W Europe, especially Scandinavia.

Acid rain became a political issue in the 1980s, when Canada claimed that pollutants from the United States were contaminating its forests and waters. Since then regulations have been enacted in North America and Europe to curb sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants; these include the U.S. Clean Air Act (as reauthorized and expanded in 1990) and the Helsinki protocol (1985), in which 21 European nations promised to reduce emissions by specified amounts. To assess the effectiveness of reductions a comprehensive study, comparing data from lakes and rivers across N Europe and North America, was conducted by an international team of scientists in 1999. The results they reported were mixed: while sulfates (the main acidifying water pollutant from acid rain) were lower, only some areas showed a decrease in overall acidity. It remained to be determined whether more time or a greater reduction in sulfur emissions was needed to reduce freshwater acidity in all areas. See air pollution; forest; pollution.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

International Law and Pollution
Daniel Barstow Magraw.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: "Part III: Acid Deposition: Regional and Bilateral Approaches" begins on p. 245
Ties That Blind in Canadian/American Relations: Politics of News Discourse
Richard L. Barton.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990
Librarian’s tip: "Acid Rain" begins on p. 70
Energy, the Environment, and Public Policy: Issues for the 1990s
David L. McKee.
Praeger Publishers, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Acid Rain: Public Policy and Environmental Perception"
Global Environmental Politics
Gareth Porter; Janet Welsh Brown.
Westview Press, 1996 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Transboundary Air Pollution (Acid Rain)" begins on p. 69
Measuring the Benefits of Clean Air and Water
Allen V. Kneese.
Resources for the Future, 1984
Librarian’s tip: "Acid Rain" begins on p. 111
Winds of Change: Reducing Transboundary Air Pollutants
Reuther, Christopher G.
Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 108, No. 4, April 2000
Morality, Rationality, and Efficiency: New Perspectives on Socio-Economics
Richard M. Coughlin.
M. E. Sharpe, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 21 "The Socio-Economics of Environment Risk: Comparing Air Quality, Acid Rain, and Global Change"
Game Theory and the Environment
Nick Hanley; Henk Folmer.
Edward Elgar, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Acid Rain and International Environmental Aid: Transboundary Air Pollution between Finland, Russia, and Estonia"
International Environmental Cooperation: Politics and Diplomacy in Pacific Asia
Paul G. Harris.
University Press of Colorado, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Problems of Environmental Cooperation in Northeast Asia: the Case of Acid Rain"
The International Political Economy of the Environment: Critical Perspectives
Dimitris Stevis; Valerie J. Assetto.
Lynne Rienner, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "A Critical Approach to Institutional and Environmental Effectiveness: Lessons from the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution"
Environmental Politics in Japan, Germany, and the United States
Miranda A. Schreurs.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Acid Rain: Signs of Policy Divergence"
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