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Whatever happened to acid rain?

2010 April 8

Recently, my coworkers and I have started tracking the internet chatter about acid rain. We were curious about what the world was saying about this iconic environmental issue. Acid rain is taught in most schools across the country so imagine our surprise when we found a pretty significant number of people who thought the problem of acid rain has been solved.

So…what really did happen to acid rain? It was a big problem in the 80s and early 90s, but now we don’t hear much about it. This year marks the 20th anniversary of EPA’s Acid Rain Program—a program that requires power plants across the country to reduce SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and NOx (nitrogen oxide), the pollutants that form acid rain.

Because of our program, we’ve seen power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx plummet. Many sensitive lakes and streams in the East are starting to recover from the effects of acid rain. And the days of dying forests and lakes totally devoid of fish are, increasingly, a thing of the past.

The success of the Acid Rain Program has been impressive: 63 percent lower SO2 emissions, 70 percent lower NOx emissions, and 100% compliance! We’ve come a long way but, unfortunately, acid rain is still a very real problem in some parts of the country and it is one that EPA is committed to continuing to address.

So – whatever happened to acid rain? We’d like to tell you what we’ve been doing about acid rain, but more importantly, we’re very interested in hearing what YOU guys think. How did you first learn about acid rain? What did you know about the Acid Rain Program and what EPA has been doing over the past 20 years to try to solve the issue?  How has acid rain affected your community?  What more do you think EPA should be doing  to address this issue? Tell us what you think and please join us over the next few weeks as we continue our dialogue documenting the past 20 years of the program on Facebook , and Twitter .

About the author: Josh Stewart is the Communications Intern with the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. Josh is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Political Management at The George Washington University.

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.

20 Responses leave one →
  1. Alexandr permalink
    April 8, 2010

    The most awful, that it is possible to think up. We not unitary tested, that this such. Acid rains not a rarity, they are dangerous in the spring and in the summer. Usually they pass strips. It is the whole scientific theme

  2. Sue permalink
    April 8, 2010

    You need to toot LOUDLY and CLEARLY that the means used to successfully reduce acid rain was CAP & TRADE.

    C&T is a “market-based” solution and it has been PROVEN that it WORKS.

    I didn’t think it would work at the time it was adopted. I was wrong.

  3. Ed Darrell permalink
    April 8, 2010

    I’d love to hear a lot more about the history of acid rain. I’ve been in several discussions recently, in person, and on the internet, in which acid rain was used as an example of an occasion when scientists needlessly sounded an alarm. “Where is acid rain today?” one fellow asked me. “You never hear about it. It was a hoax problem.”

    I’d also like to hear more about progress on saving ozone in the upper atmosphere, and about DDT — two other topics which are subject to widespread hoaxing as “never a real problem.”

  4. John permalink
    April 8, 2010

    Although I also question the cause and effect of some of these issue, I have little doubt acid rain, DDT (and some others), and strataspheric ozone were real, immediate dangers.

    I grew up in the midwest, and in rural areas. The presence of birds of prey were no where near what it is today (after DDT was banned)…I think the cause and effect were clear proved…what evidence was presented that it was a false alarm ?

    Ozone depletion…I though both the fundemental science (back up the obeservations) and the abatement after the contributing compounds were greatly reduced were pretty convincing.

    Acid rain a hoax problem :) The amounts of acids from dirty combusiton when the program began are clearly real numbers, the reductions in accid gases from combustion operations to date are real numbers. The acidifiction of lakes, and the impacts on sensitive trees were real, the reduction in the impacts above are real. I would say either a hoax, or a success story…and I would vote the later.

    Was the black plague a hoax…I don’t hear of that anymore :)

    But these issues should be challenged…I support that.

  5. Reality Check permalink
    April 8, 2010

    Mr. Stewart:

    I can wish and hope those statistics are true, but there is so much corruption around the World, I am no longer sure who is telling the truth or if anyone actually knows it. The President wants to get the economy “back on track growing again”, which assumes the Earth can accomodate an ever growing expansion of new businesses and the growing population those businesses need to keep on growing. But the Earth is NOT growing, but shrinking with each volcano and earthquake and with the massive amounts of oil and minerals taken out of the ground. So, how much economic development can the Earth support and how many people? Nobody wants to even try answering those questions, because they are driven by their instincts, not their reasoning minds — and that may be out achilles heel, and the most enormous tragedy in human history.

  6. Kenny permalink
    April 8, 2010

    I’m glad to hear that SOx and NOx have been reduced 60 to 70% in the last 20 years. That’s a real success story that you don’t hear in the press. I bet most people would think that emissions from coal plants have increased in the last 20 years based on the hype in the media about supposed anthroprogenic global warming. Looks like humans may not be causing global warming after all…

  7. Anthony permalink
    April 8, 2010

    I think acid rain is a contribute to nature in all aspects but on the other hand can be damageing to man made material whats most imprtant the enviroment or material things? I think rain can and will be a big part of our everneeds and growing economy for starters I think we should contain it. lots of ideas of how to use it.
    anthony grady

  8. Carol Lee Murphy permalink
    April 8, 2010

    Hi i remember that acid rain was a big issue, well it was for us in Canada, as well as in the USA, but like most people, if an issue isnt in the media, its forgotten by most except those who fish or take a special interest in the wilderness areas, i will say tho that if i had not read your update i would be ignorant of the gains made, and that it really quietly translates into a huge recovery for our enviroment, more than seems apparent at first sight, i have found this news very enlightening, and encouraging. Carol.

  9. Sharon permalink
    April 8, 2010

    I’m expecting acid rain any day now in the Barnett Shale from all the gas well flaring.

  10. Jim permalink
    April 9, 2010

    Looks like the Technology exists since more coal was burned during the last 20 years than the previous 20.

    Great job by developers of FGD to clean up the stacks, and kudo’s to the Nuclear industry as well for increasing Capacity factor performance to maintain their 20% of the increased market.

  11. Edward Tremble permalink
    April 9, 2010

    Eh Acid Rain, it might be funny but that now brings some pleasant memories. Everybody who knows me was thoroughly bored with my constant rant about need to preserve health of forests. I would stop the car on the motorway to take pictures of ill conifers with dying tree tops. And than I would email those photos to everybody I knew and asked them to sign petition. And that was at the time when there was no broadband, just ordinary modems and landlines.

    But it worked. What is most important was that action against Acid Rain had proven that mankind can do something for our planet if it wanted. And that was a time when many of today’s environmental movements were born, like Greenpeace. If we all took it seriously, I am sure that we can stop even global warming.

    But, we should go about it in a small steps. Although it lacks media attention, we should first consider cleaning the Pacific of all the floating junk plastic. That plastic kills so many birds and fish and which is suffering that goes completely unnoticed.

    Edward

  12. David Mc permalink
    April 11, 2010

    We still have lots of acid rain. It’s called carbonic acid, and it’s acidifying the oceans too.

  13. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    April 11, 2010

    Cap and trade was a critical part of getting acid rain under control. It will be an even more critical part of getting much of the green house gas problem under control. In California, the Air Resources Control Board, the Energy Commission, and the Public Utilities Commission have formed a group and worked last year forming a state cap and trade policy for big pollutors like power plants. This is part of the AB32 Law. Cap and Trade works. But more must still be done in the area of energy conservation so that less power will be demanded from the grid, and in the area of alternative power sources like solar, wind and hydrogen. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  14. Charles Morgan, P.E. permalink
    April 12, 2010

    No one around here in Freestone County, Texas except me knows anything about acid rain. We have the largest polluter in Texas in our back yard and no one is dong anything about it except me and our group Citizens for Environmental Clean – Up (CEC). I tried to get an air monitor installed for two years. It was cancelled this year after County Commissioners funded it. Big Brown must have paid handsomely to get that done. But it is a pitance compared to what they would spend to clean up this old 38 year coal fired power plant. It must be replaced. This plant puts out three and a half times more emissions (96,000 tons of sulfur dioxide alone) than all of Harris County (Includes Houston). Yet we do not have a air monitor. Every neighborhood in Houston has one.

    Cancer abounds here and asthma. One person dies per week and two per week are diagnosed with it. Yet Relay for Life raises more funds in Freestone County than any other location. Everyone here knows someone with cancer or just died of cancer.

    Our farmers and ranchers have to spend a lot of money to put out lime to counter-act the acid rain. I am a rancher. Recent soil tests show I have a very acid soil.

    On top of the power plant, we have 130 natural gas compressor stations that are allowed to spew out another 3,350 tons per year of sulfur dioxide that contributes to acid rain. We are after EPA to have air monitors installed near the largest polluters and not just based on population.

    Sincerely,

    Charles Morgan, P.E., Inactive
    Exe. Dir.
    Citizens for Environmental Clean – Up
    Fairfield, Texas

  15. JCM permalink
    April 12, 2010

    Like one of the other commentors, I’m interested in knowing how acid rain contributes to ocean acidification. As I understand it the acidification of the oceans causes tiny ocean invertebrates and coral to lose their shells because of the change in PH. When they die the entire food chain in the ocean is disrupted. How do NOX and SOX pollutants compare in effect on ocean acidification to C02?

  16. Patricia permalink
    April 12, 2010

    I was so interested in what you had to say until I got to the question…”what do you guys think”…. I am offended by this and I will ask you to think about your audience in the future. I am not a guy and as someone writing from a government office you should have someone edit your work if you don’t know why this is offensive. When you are writing your own blogs, tweets, messages you can be familiar as you please. Your message is important so please do not turn off readers who are interested.

  17. David Mc permalink
    April 12, 2010

    NOX makes nitric acid and SOX makes sulfuric acid when they react with water. These are very strong acids, but an enormous amount of CO2 is acidifying the ocean by reacting with water to produce the weaker carbonic acid. H2CO3 reacts with alkali nearly as well as strong acids, but won’t get to as low a pH as our smaller lakes did back in the 80s. Still likely a big issue for shellbound and other life.

  18. David Mc permalink
    April 13, 2010

    Try this at home. Put a couple drops of milk of magnesia in a glass of water. Blow a few breaths into it with a straw. The solution goes from milky to clear. You just dissolved those little brucite rocks (a magnesium hydroxide mineral) with carbonic acid. Your exhale contains about 5% CO2 (inhale, ~0.038%?). CO2 + H2O = carbonic acid H2CO3.

  19. Maria permalink
    April 19, 2010

    Patricia,
    You are missing the issue here. “You guys” is a common phrase that people have been saying without offense for decades. I consider myself both a feminist and an environmentalist and recognize that terms such as “you guys” are the least of either group’s problems, and I can safely say that the majority of my colleagues who are concerned with REAL issues feel the same way.

  20. lama shapa lapa ding dong permalink
    November 27, 2011

    Acid rain is amazing. i sleep on it, swim in it and talk to it. you know

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