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What is Acid Rain?

Diff'rent Strokes Acid Rain EpisodeGrowing up in the 80s, I used to hear a lot about acid rain.   It was a bit of a buzz phrase back then.  There was even an episode of "Diff'rent Strokes" where acid rain turned Kimberly's hair green.  (And they say sitcoms can't be educational!)     I used to be so freaked out by acid rain, that if a snowflake accidentally got into my mouth while building a snowman outside with my friends, I'd be horrified and I swore I could feel the acid eating away at my tongue.

Nowadays, you don't really hear much about acid rain, but it's still a problem.  Acid rain was discovered in 1852, but not until over 100 years later did scientists begin researching it.   They began calling it "acid rain" in 1972, and it became more well-known after the New York Times reported on the detrimental environmental effects at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Acid rain is usually caused by emissions of compounds of sulfur, nitrogen, and carbon which react with the water molecules in the atmosphere.   This can come from electricity being generated, factories, cars, and coal power plants. Acid rain can also be caused naturally by the splitting of nitrogen compounds by the energy produced from lightening or sulfur dioxide being released by volcanic eruptions.

Acid rain has many disastrous effects (aside from turning a sitcom character's hair green).  For one thing, it harms plants and aquatic wildlife.  Acid rain has already killed off some insects and fish.  Soil and forests have also suffered as a result of acid rain.  The EPA has also said that acid rain is dangerous to human health.

How can we reduce acid rain?  The EPA offers many tips, including some things you can do on your own:

- Turn off electronics (including lights!) when you're not using them.
- Use energy-efficient appliances, particularly Energy Star.
- Keep your thermostat at 68 in the winter.  (Get a warm sweater and some wool socks if you live in a cold climate!)
- Make sure your home is insulated.
- Use public transportation, carpool, walk, or bike places.
- Buy vehicles with low NOx emissions and keep your car well-maintained.

If you're curious about acid rain programs where you live, the EPA also has information on that. 

I don't know why you don't hear about acid rain these days, but it's still a very real concern.  I hope that it will become less and less of a problem with more green awareness and people cutting down on their energy usage.