By Michael Suleiman
When you discover people who think the same as you do and share the same passions for making our air a little cleaner, our trees a little greener and our planet a little healthier you just have to brag about them and share their work. That’s why we’re sharing this article with you, a little piece of gold written by our intern, Michael Suleiman...
The highest mountain east of the Mississippi pales in comparison to the mountains out west. Standing at 6684 feet above sea level, Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina attracts hikers, bikers, campers and leafers yearlong. Scientists and atmospheric researchers have also become frequent visitors. Due to the relatively high elevation, the effects of acid rain have hit Mt. Mitchell hard. Forests at higher altitudes are more often cloaked in clouds or fog for much of the year.
Researchers are now aware that acid rain is a major cause of the degradation and even death of many forests. Acid rain weakens trees by poisoning the soil and nutrients that are essential to life. Clouds, soil and soil porosity play a major impact in the filtration of some of the toxins in acid rain. Drinking water, especially in the East Coast, has become more acidic because of our own emissions produced.
Let’s have a quick chemistry lesson to discover what’s going on with the acid levels. When an element has a lower potential hydrogen level (pH) it is classified as being more acidic than normal. When a substance has a higher pH level it has a higher alkaline level than normal. On the pH scale, lemon juice or vinegar would be considered to be very acidic and have a low pH. On the other hand, ammonia would be considered to have a high alkaline level. Pure water is the most neutral substance or, on the pH scale, a 7 out of 14. However, cloud droplets or fog already have a higher acidic level than that of the final raindrops. This is due to the fact that the water droplets have had less filtering. The dense clouds put these higher elevation mountains at a greater risk for receiving high levels of acidity.
According to the Asheville website, “Eight out of ten days, Mount Mitchell is covered in clouds and fog that are sometimes as acidic as vinegar.” This means that the pH level could be as low as 2. At a pH level of 3, adult fish start to die. Even at a pH level of 4.8 fish reproduction is drastically affected. All the acid rain that is collected on our mountains eventually makes its way down to streams and into our drinking water. Acid rain has been linked to premature deaths, asthma symptoms, liver problems and lung problems, among others.
The two key elements that create the most acid rain are sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides. The largest sulfur dioxide emissions in the United States come from burning coal. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) largely come from car exhaust.
Understanding how to reduce these two emissions is crucial to preventing damages to our forests, our environment, our animals and our own health. Essentially, the best way to reduce acid rain is by reducing emissions from power plants and cars. The Environmental Protection Agency has many useful tips that everyday individuals can do to help reduce these emissions.
- Turn off lights, computers, and other appliances when you’re not using them.
- Use energy-efficient appliances: lighting, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances.
- Only use electric appliances when you need them.
- Keep your thermostat at 68 °F in the winter and 72°F in the summer.
- Insulate your home as best you can.
- Carpool, use public transportation, or better yet, walk or bicycle whenever possible.
- Buy vehicles with low NOx emissions, and properly maintain your vehicle.