Car fumes raise spectre of 1980s revival nobody wants...acid rain

A A A

Thirty years ago it was one of the great environmental issues, along with the hole in the ozone layer and CFC chemicals. Now acid rain may be making a comeback – but this time, there's a change in the chemicals responsible.

Nitrogen emissions from motor vehicles and agricultural fertilisers, are combining with rain to produce nitric acid, and are starting to replace the sulphuric acid resulting from power-station emissions as a major source of the environmental scourge of the 1970s and 1980s, according to American experts.

The result is a renewed and serious environmental risk for forests, rivers and wildlife, as nitric acid rain can – just like its sulphuric equivalent – kill plants, fish and insects by leaching important plant nutrients such potassium, calcium and magnesium from the soil. At the same time, it can help to liberate potentially toxic minerals such as aluminium, which can flow off into watercourses. The concern is surfacing in the US, where several scientists have voiced their worries in the current issue of the journal Scientific American.

But the problem exists in Britain and Europe too, especially in Scandinavia, which, because of prevailing westerly winds, receives much of the UK's air pollution. "The issue hasn't gone away," said Ed Dearnley, policy officer for air quality at the charity Environmental Protection UK.

In fact, many EU member states are not on course to meet new limits on nitrogen air pollution which come into force at the end of this year, under the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol, which attempts to do for air pollution what the 1997 Kyoto Protocol attempted to do for climate change: solve the problem by reducing emissions.

The UK is unlikely to meet its limits for NOx (oxides of nitrogen) under the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive, although by a smaller margin than many other countries. Britain expects to overshoot its NOx ceilings by less than 5 per cent, whereas France and Spain look like exceeding theirs by about 30 per cent.

In the US, although nitrogen pollution has been reduced, it has not gone down as much as sulphur pollution. Sulphur dioxide emissions decreased by almost 70 per cent from 1990 to 2008, but emissions of NOx went down only 35 per cent during the same period. Scientists "have grown increasingly aware of the consequences of the remaining nitric acid deposition", according to Professor William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

Professor Schlesinger said it is clear that humans are adding nitrogen to the Earth's surface, and although researchers do not know yet where it all goes, "we do know that increasing concentrations of nitrogen in unexpected places will cause significant environmental damage that we will all learn to regret".

According to Scientific American, the Professor thinks that national arguments over climate change have allowed the US to ignore the nitrogen problem, which he predicts will be the next big environmental issue.

Atmospheric nitrogen is not only responsible for acid rain; when it falls to earth it also causes eutrophication, an excess of nutrients which can lead to algal blooms on lakes and can disrupt plant diversity by letting a very few plant species outcompete almost everything else.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn