The Effects of Acidic Water

By Tyler Lacoma; Updated April 24, 2017

Acidic water can have certain unhealthy affects on humans, mostly through absorption into the lungs where the acidic compounds can cause damage. There are also some visibility concerns caused by the acid rain obscuring horizons. But most harm from acid rain comes from its effects on the environment, especially plants and small organisms that depend on a certain level of acidity to survive.

Definition

Acidic rain, or acid rain, is rain with a significantly higher acid content than normal rainfall. This does not mean the rain itself is made of a different substance or has an entirely different chemical composition. The clouds and rain are still made of water vapor, but they have been mixed with other particles that gives the water additional acidic properties. If acid rain falls in an area that is not prepared to deal with the higher acidic content of the water, it can cause damage throughout the environment.

Chemical Process

Acid rain can form through natural or human processes. Natural processes include the release of sulfur into the air by volcanoes, forest fires, and decomposing plants or animals. Lightning can also cause acid rain by fusing nitrogen into nitric acid. Humans can cause acid rain by burning fossil fuels, especially fuels that release a large amount of sulfur dioxides or any nitric oxides. These chemical compounds rise into the atmosphere and combine with water vapor, which forms into clouds and eventually produces acid rainfall.

Effects on Stone

Statue corroded by acid rain, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The effects of acid rain on our lives are most noticeable as damage appears on roofs and stone carvings or edifices, especially limestone or similar stones, like marble. These elements will neutralize the acid rain through a chemical reaction, but the reaction also eats away at the stone, causing irreplaceable damage to sculptures and buildings. The acidic water can also eat into paints and metals, causing more damage to the sides of buildings and cars. In nature, the damage acid rain does to stone is generally preferable, since the alkaline content of limestone renders the rain harmless.

Effects on Plants

Whether plants will be affected by acid rain depends on the soil. If the soil is able to effectively absorb and neutralize the acid in the rainwater, then the plants will not suffer many ill effects. If the soil is incapable of protecting plants against acid rain, they will draw sulfur and nitric compounds into their roots and through their systems. There, it will have an increasingly toxic effect, slowing growth and eventually killing the plant. This tends to happen mostly at high elevations, where rainwater does not have a chance to encounter as many minerals before it is absorbed by plants.

Effects on Water Sources

If acid rain is increasingly drawn into lakes or water systems, it can affect not only plants but the entire ecosystem, eventually killing off small organisms that aquatic life depends on. Severely affected lakes can even lose larger animals like fish. If the acid rain stops, the effects can eventually be reversed after years of water renewal.

About the Author

Tyler Lacoma has worked as a writer and editor for several years after graduating from George Fox University with a degree in business management and writing/literature. He works on business and technology topics for clients such as Obsessable, EBSCO, Drop.io, The TAC Group, Anaxos, Dynamic Page Solutions and others, specializing in ecology, marketing and modern trends.