Whenever it rains in the city where he now lives (Barranquilla, on the northern coast of Colombia), the doctor Ernesto Carletti, of Italian origin, fears that acid rain will fall again. He himself has been able to verify its effects around the planet during several years of scientific research. His fear is not unfounded.
Because in the Montecristo district of the capital city of the Department of Atlántico, several trees died as a result of the strange phenomenon, which in turn devastated the beautiful urapanes in Bogotá a decade ago, along with half the forests in Germany and Switzerland, as is the case in other parts of the world. It is therefore a global phenomenon.
But, what is acid rain? What are its causes and, above all, what are its harmful effects for human health, living beings and even stones, affecting our homes?
First of all, if you take a bath in acid rain you will feel nothing different from normal water, as there is no sensation on the skin. However, that is not the problem; the problem is in the air, so much so that people who have a predisposition to respiratory diseases such as asthma will develop them. So watch out for acid rain.
Obviously, trees are its main victims, therefore also affecting us, because in many cases they are essential natural food. Why? Very simple: acid rain eliminates the protective layer of plants, which become easy prey for parasites or pests that finally cause their death.
The sea, in turn, is not immune to its serious harm either. On the contrary, the dangerous chemical elements brought by acid rain have destroyed major shoals of plankton, which feeds millions of small fish, whales, dolphins or tunas, whose significant reduction in numbers harms fishing, the fishers themselves and humanity as a whole.
Not to mention the soil. When the rain falls it “acidifies”, i.e. it turns more acid, with greater acidity brought precisely by acid rain, and the different crops suffer the terrible consequences, even more so when the land over time becomes unproductive, barren, as if it were an extensive desert where life disappears.
Actually, according to professor Carletti, acid rain alters the entire biological chain in land and sea, in vegetation and in human beings, and in this regard it is an enormous environmental problem which, along with climate change, with which it is closely linked, seems to be leading our planet inexorably toward its destruction. Our lives are at risk!
What is acid rain?
It all begins with fuel burning, whether a fire, in car gasoline engines or in coal-fired power plants. In this combustion we can see the smoke, but not the chemical elements, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which work their way up to the clouds.
It is precisely there, in the clouds, where the problem arises: these gases, when mixed with water (H2O), form sulfuric acid and nitric acid that later fall to the ground with the rain, where they cause the aforementioned damage. Why? Because of its excessive acidity.
In fact, pH is the universal scientific indicator of the water’s acidity, and any liquid substance is either acid or alkaline; the measuring scale goes from 1 to 14, where the mid-point 7 indicates that the solution is neutral. And although under normal conditions rain has a pH of 6 to 7, acid rain goes from 2 to 3, similar to lemon juice. “This is an extreme acidity”, says a dismayed Carletti.
Two evils combined
The researcher explains that the gases in question are different from greenhouse gases, those which, like methane and CO2, trigger global warming by creating a barrier in the atmosphere that prevents the sun’s rays from shining after hitting the earth. “But they are related”, he claims.
As he explains, the increasingly burning sun rays speed up the aforementioned chemical reaction in the clouds, so acid rain appears more regularly, aggravating the climate change problem and the corresponding environmental disaster to which it contributes significantly, but silently.
However, it is surprising that everyone talks about global warming, while acid rain is something that tends to go unnoticed, rarely appearing in the media, perhaps because of its scientific complexity, because the necessary studies are not conducted or simply because there are powerful interests involved. “Just think about the oil companies, the automobile sector, the power stations, industry in general…” he says.
What should we do?
According to Carletti, such a critical situation calls for the immediate involvement of both governments, with suitable policies and controls, and companies, which are not adopting clean technologies and alternative energy sources, such as car engines running on electricity and hydrogen.
And we have to change our lifestyles, use less “dirty” energy, drive our cars less often and walk or cycle, improve public transportation so buses are not moving smokestacks in our cities, where acid rain is beginning to turn the walls of old buildings into dust, as we are already seeing in Barranquilla (Colombia).
Watch out for acid rain!
This publication is a summary of the original text, which is available on i-ambiente.
Jorge Emilio Sierra
(*) Editor of the magazine “Desarrollo Indoamericano”, Universidad Simón Bolívar (Barranquilla, Colombia) – email@example.com