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The Health Benefits of the Acid Rain Program

2010 April 23

Growing up in the early 1990s, I heard a lot of buzz about acid rain and its damaging effects on our forests and aquatic environments. It wasn’t until I started interning in the Clean Air Markets Division of EPA that I began to investigate how sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), the emissions that cause acid rain, could also harm my health.

Since the Acid Rain Program began requiring SO2 and NOx reductions from power plants, the drop in emissions has improved air quality around the country, preventing some negative health impacts and leading to a higher quality of life for many Americans.

In fact, the greatest benefits are the 20,000 to 50,000 lives saved per year because of cleaner air and lower pollution levels. SO2 and NOx emissions can lead to the formation of fine particle pollution and smog, also called ground level ozone. Smog and particle pollution have been linked to health problems including aggravation of asthma and increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Even though I’m relatively healthy and am not considered particularly sensitive to these effects, I can still feel the impact when I’m playing or working outdoors. I spend a lot of time outside with my two dogs, Bella and Lucy. I love taking them hiking near the Occoquan River in northern Virginia. Even though I’m not affected by asthma, the hills are a lot harder to climb on bad air days. Fortunately for me (and my dogs), the good air days far outnumber the bad and we don’t have to cut our adventures short because of polluted air.

It’s pretty amazing that a program originally designed to fix the environmental problem of acid rain saves so many lives every year! EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, and the Acid Rain Program is doing both.

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About the author: Elyse Procopio was an intern in EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. She recently graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

29 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    April 23, 2010

    After read your post, my mind muse to the people of West Borneo, who drunk rainfall water, with minimal pH. Average, they teeth are damaged. They don’t know which called Acid Rain Program….

  2. Frances permalink
    April 23, 2010

    “20,000 to 50,000 lives saved per year because of cleaner air and lower pollution levels”.

    Since when does EPA get their statistics from NRDC?

  3. Anonymous permalink
    April 23, 2010

    Me think arman smart.

  4. jeff brewer permalink
    April 23, 2010

    it is nice to know that we are doing something about pollution and saving lives at the same time

  5. Tom permalink
    April 24, 2010

    20000-50000 Lives saved per year? that´s a lot. Good thing something is done about it to save lives.

  6. Donald permalink
    April 24, 2010

    I too remember hearing a lot about acid rain in the early ’90s. I notice that we don’t hear about it a lot any more, though, and I have to ask why. While the statistics quoted in this article are impressive in and of themselves, it hardly follows that acid rain has become a non-issue. In addition, given that 20,000 to 50,000 people is less than 0.01% of the United States population, how much effect has the cleanup effort had in relation to the number of dollars spent on it this far? Is there anything else we should be doing, and how are the priorities being determined?

    I maintain that we live far beyond our means. If everyone in the world were to demand the standard of living that Americans usually enjoy, it would take three and a half Earths to sustain it all. Unless industrial and post-industrial countries can make a cultural commitment to voluntary reduction of resource consumption, we’re still going to be up a (polluted) creek. Go us, but let’s keep going.

    Donald from Home Remedies for Piles

  7. Tim permalink
    April 25, 2010

    It’s encouraging to read another positive note about the human race actually doing something to repair the damage we have managed to cause ourselves and the world we live in. As a professional UK fly fishing instructor? my key concern is the damage acid rain does to our rivers and lakes. Acidified waters simply cannot support the same variety of life as healthy waters. Indeed, it can be deadly to acquatic wildlife including, mayflies, phytopplankton, small mouth bass, rainbow trout and frogs to name but a few. This damage of course has a knock on effect to the entire food chain.

    Fortunately, it would appear, here in Europe, many lakes and rivers, previously damaged by decades of industrial pollution and acid rain are becoming less acidic and less polluted after the European Union enforced measures to limit emissions of sulphur to control acid rain in the 1980s. However, even with these measures a full recovery of animals and plants will certainly take a lot longer.

    My hope for the future, too, is that industrial giants such as China pursue a more rigourous anti-pollution policy. My son has lived in Hong Kong for over 10 years and he has begun to suffer terrible pulmonary complications, which as a family, we are convinced are due to him living in an environment with such dreadful air quality caused by shocking levels of acid rain.

    I totally echo Donald’s sentiments above. The rest of the world has every right to demand the standard of living that we in the ‘Western World’ have come to enjoy (or is it abuse?), but we have a collective duty to ensure we do not end up forcing future generations to cast their rods to sick fish in poisoned creeks. Here’s hoping!

  8. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    April 25, 2010

    The results of the EPA Acid Rain Reduction Program are fantastic. But this must be a continuing battle to maintain and further reduce the currentlevels of acid rain and deaths. It also shows that cap and trade works, and that is something that will help the California EPA which is now in the process ofputting a cap and trade program together for us that will cover large andmajor polluters likepower plants, petro-chemical refinaries. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  9. Martin Walker permalink
    April 25, 2010

    Do you have any resources for information on the relationship between global warming and acid rain frequency? As an SEO company located out in Southern California, we are looking to partner with other local companies to support this new initiative, in an attempt to pull together the business community.

    We want to use the goodwill of this acid rain project to cushion some of the political posturing of the anti-global warming folks.

  10. M. Kafil Uddin permalink
    April 26, 2010

    In 1990. Bangladesh faced yellow color rain in some area. As, scientist opinion that rain water was contained with very little quantity of sulfer oxcide & other camecal. As, lack of media information we did not be aware about the side effect of that rain.

    M. Kafil Uddin

  11. dana fino permalink
    April 26, 2010

    i need a new log book for refrigerents. ive looked on epa web site with no luck. anyone know where i can get one?

  12. Colleen permalink
    April 26, 2010

    Actually, it looks like NRDC got their information from EPA since the report below with this statistic was published by EPA in September 2009. See Table 2 in the following EPA report: http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/progress/ARP_2.html

  13. David Mc permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Ironically, removing sulfur dioxide eliminates its cooling effect through aerosols and cloud seeding = more climate warming. It’s really bad stuff though, so never mind.

  14. John Preston permalink
    July 4, 2010

    Very heartening news. Its good to see that the longevity of programs like these continues to adds to the benefits. Too often we look for and applaud the quick fix John from Cura Hemorroides

  15. Bris permalink
    July 25, 2010

    It´s amazing to see how the acid rain can improve our lives. Nobody was though about it! thanks a lot!. Bris

  16. Marylan SEO permalink
    October 6, 2010

    Is there anything else we should be doing, and how are the priorities being determined?

  17. SimonS permalink
    October 6, 2010

    A proper fitness regimen is very important for both the body and the mind.

    Even though a lot of research is going on in this direction and there are so many websites, books, etc. on the topic, a lot of us are still obese and not

    healthy.

    What seems to be lacking?

    -SimonS

  18. pagerank permalink
    December 13, 2010

    There is nice information.

  19. Fadi permalink
    December 21, 2010

    I certainly agree with what you think Donald. This is a wonderful insight worth pondering by Americans.

  20. Chris Huntley permalink
    December 29, 2010

    I know this to be true from experience working with heart disease clients.(Mostly coronary artery disease, valvular disease, bypass and stent recipients). Anyway, I had one client who had gotten a mitral valve replacement who lived in L.A. and was told by his doctor about the relationship between air pollution and heart disease, and encouraged him to move after his procedure!

    This goes hand in hand with what you said: “Smog and particle pollution have been linked to health problems including aggravation of asthma and increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease.”

    Interesting article. Thanks.
    Regards,
    Chris Huntley, Author

  21. Jim permalink
    April 15, 2011

    Acid rain is a much bigger problem than people want to believe it is. I have seen the effects first hand and it is a serious problem.

  22. seo tips permalink
    April 16, 2011

    Well if this doesn’t get taken care of the outcomes are not going to be anything that anyone’s going to want to deal with so better to continue to meaningfully address this mess now.

  23. John permalink
    June 16, 2011

    I don’t think so.

  24. Sucker permalink
    June 21, 2011

    Recognition for the nice post. I am expecting some amazing idea from your side . You always place for some new view in your post

  25. BrainStormWorld permalink
    June 21, 2011

    It´s amazing to see how the acid rain can improve Your lives.

    This is a wonderful insight worth pondering by Americans.

  26. mitral permalink
    December 20, 2011

    you have a great blog here! Its an amazing idea.. Thank you for taking a few minutes to summarize this all out for us. It is a great guide!

  27. Colleen permalink
    July 5, 2013

    Actually, it looks like NRDC got their information from EPA since the report below with this statistic was published by EPA in September 2009. See Table 2 in the following EPA report:

  28. Denis permalink
    December 31, 2013

    I am in complete agreement with this block, very it has proved to be of great benefit.
    “Since the Acid Rain Program began requiring SO2 and NOx reductions from power plants, the drop in emissions has improved air quality around the country, preventing some negative health impacts and leading to a higher quality of life for many Americans.”
    - Thanks

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