Particularly for large metropolitan cities, smog and poor air quality is a pressing environmental problem. Smog primarily consists of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds chemically interacting with heat from sunlight forming ground level ozone. Smog is that familiar haze most commonly found surrounding large cities, particularly in the summer time. Smog and ground level ozone contribute to all kinds of respiratory problems ranging from temporary discomfort, asthma, to long-lasting, permanent lung damage. The pollutants in smog come from vehicle emissions, smokestack emissions, paints, and solvents – most of which started out as crude oil.
Much of the eastern United States is affected by another environmental problem known as acid rain. Acid rain can damage crops, forests, wildlife populations, and cause respiratory and other illnesses in humans. When sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with water vapor and other chemicals in the presence of sunlight, various acidic compounds form in the air and come to the earth as acid rain. The pollutants of acid rain are derived from coal fired power plants. Natural gas emits virtually no sulfur dioxide and up to 80 percent less nitrogen oxides than the combustion of coal. So the increased use of natural gas would provide for fewer acid rain causing emissions.
The source of energy to use for reducing pollution and maintaining a clean and healthy environment is natural gas. Natural gas is also domestically abundant making it a secure source of energy. The environmental benefits of using natural gas over other sources of energy, particularly other fossil fuels are numerous.
Since the use of natural gas emits only low levels of nitrogen oxides and virtually no particulate matter, it can be used to help combat smog formation in those areas where ground level air quality is poor. Electric utilities, motor vehicles, and industrial plants make up the main sources of nitrogen oxides. To combat smog production, especially in urban centers where it is needed the most, increased natural gas use in the electric generation sector, a shift to cleaner natural gas vehicles, and increased industrial natural gas use could all serve to improving the air quality. Summertime, when natural gas demand is at its lowest and smog problems are the greatest, would be a good time for industrial plants and electric generators to use natural gas to fuel their operations instead of using the more polluting fossil fuels. This would effectively reduce smog emissions resulting in clearer, healthier air around the urban centers.
A study conducted in 1995 by the Coalition for Gas-Based Environmental Solutions found that in the Northeast, smog and ozone-causing emissions could be reduced by 50 to 70 percent through the seasonal switching to natural gas.
Particulate emissions such as soot, ash, metals, and other airborne particles also cause the degradation of air quality in the United States. Natural gas emits virtually no particulates into the atmosphere. Emissions of particulates from natural gas combustion are 90 percent lower than from the combustion of oil, and 99 percent lower than burning coal. Increased natural gas use in place of other dirtier hydrocarbons can help to reduce particulate emissions in the United States.
Companies like Triple Diamond Energy Corporation are concerned about the levels of smog and acid rain. They look at increasing their supply of the more environmentally beneficial natural gas and to make it more accessible to the northeastern part of the United States.
Acid rain is a widespread problem found all over the world. It is the result of chemicals from burned fossil fuel mixing with moisture in the atmosphere and falling to the ground as rain, snow, sleet, etc. Acid deposition is a more precise name than acid rain because acid can fall to the ground as rain, snow, sleet, hail, and anything else. It can also combine with dry particles and fall to the ground; therefore it is called dry deposition whereas acid coming down in rain is called wet deposition.
People have known about air pollution since the philosopher Seneca remarked on Rome’s polluted skies in AD 61. Even though people were aware of the problem they ignored they it. Up until the last century people have ignored the problem of air pollution including air pollution’s most dangerous problem, acid rain. Acid rain is devastating to the ecosystem and is one of the most pressing environmental issues today.
Acid rain forms in the atmosphere from chemicals created by the burning of fossil fuels. When coal and oil are burned they release sulfur dioxide (SO2) and two nitric oxides, nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) designated by the symbol NOX. These dangerous chemicals come from the smoke that pours from factory chimneys and exhaust from car tail pipes. Once released, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with other chemicals in the air, water vapor, and sunlight to produce sulfuric and nitric acids, the acids in acid rain. The more sulfuric and nitric acids present, the higher the acidity of the rain. On a 14 point scale, 7 being neutral, anything less than 7 is considered acidic and anything more is considered alkaline. Battery acid is about 1 acidity and lemon juice is around 2 acidity. Regular rain is between 5 and 6 acidity. Acid rain is somewhere between 2 and 5.5. The worst case of acid rain ever recorded was in Wheeling, West Virginia where the rain had an acidity of 2.2. These levels of acidity seriously harm plants, trees, and all other life.
All over the world, acid levels are rising which endangers trees, lakes, streams, drinking water supplies, monuments, and animal life. Basically everything is effected by acid rain. Not only life is effected, but also buildings (such as national monuments), roads, even metals on cars and bridges.
When acid rain occurs, it doesn’t immediately effect acidity in lakes and streams. The water dilutes the acid so only over a long period of time can the water become too acidic. In the spring, something called acid shock can happen. Snow, that contains acid, can build up and when it melts all the acid runs into the streams and lakes at one time. When acid levels are too high it can kill small organisms like algae. When the algae dies other bigger organisms that eat algae die from starvation. It is a big chain reaction until all life is gone. Some lakes, i.e. the lakes in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State have been stripped of all life because the acid levels are too high. Acidic water that seeps into soil can also kill trees that are nearby.
Buildings are taking a toll from acid rain. The acid corrodes the stones and cement. Some buildings have been permanently weakened beyond repair. There are definitely many effects from acid rain, but the question is, how do we fix them?
Now that acid rain is widely acknowledged throughout the world, more and more people are doing something about it. For example: In November 1990, President George Bush signed the Clean Air Act, which had an annual cost of up to $25 billion. It cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 million tons a year. It also cut nitrogen oxides by 2 million tons a year. Europe agreed to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 30% of 1980 levels, and a freeze (not increasing) on nitrogen oxide emissions at 1987 levels.
Now all factories are required to be outfitted with scrubbers, which cost $150 million each. They are very expensive to maintain, but they remove 95% of sulfur dioxide after coal is burned. In scrubbers, poisonous gases are sprayed with a mix of water and lime. Together the sulfur, water, and lime form a gray, gooey substance called sludge.
Another solution to lake acidity is liming. Lime is very alkaline, so when poured into lakes it cancels out the acidity. The problem with liming is that it is very expensive and only temporarily reduces acidity.
Another solution is something called a catalytic converter, which is required on all cars. The converter is mounted on the exhaust pipe forcing all exhaust to pass through it. This converts nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxides, and unburned hydrocarbons into a cleaner state.
As you can see, there are many attempts to clean our air, but the atmosphere is still a long way from being clean. If attempts to clean our air continue, our rain may return to normal and acidic lakes, over a period of time, would return to normal. But if our attempts to clean up our own mess fail, we may cause ourselves to kill all our natural resources, which would lead to the extinction of all life on this planet, even humans.