5 Effects of Acid Rain Explained

Effects of acid rain are; health hazards, deforestation, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and infrastructural damage.

They may be broadly classified into effects of acid rain on humans, plants and animals, and the economy.

This article discusses the effects of acid rain, as outlined below;


-Effects of Acid Rain on Humans

-Effects of Acid Rain on Plants and Animals

-Effects of Acid Rain on Economy



-Effects of Acid Rain on Humans

1). Health Hazards (as one of the Effects of Acid Rain)

Acid rain can cause health problems in humans, in the process of its formation.

Areas that are at high risk of acid rain are characterized by low air quality, which is a known cause of respiratory illness [2].

Sulfuric oxide (SO2) and nitrous oxide (NO2) can affect human health negatively when inhaled for extended periods of time.

Other byproducts of the dissolution reaction that produces acid rain, as well as materials released alongside the anhydrous gases involved in acid rain formation, may also be harmful to humans.

Consumption of aquatic organisms like fish, which have been intoxicated by acidic conditions created by the introduction of acid rain into their habitat, can cause health problems as well.

Acid rain can affect human health indirectly, through infrastructural damage.

When exposed to acidic conditions for prolonged periods of time, water treatment systems, wastewater conduits, and oil and gas pipes may corrode. This can cause pollution of the ecosystem, and essential resources like drinking water, by rust, sewage, or oil spill. Such events expose the human populace to health risks.

Lastly, the socioeconomic and ecologic impacts of acid rain, such as soil fertility loss and infrastructure damage; can affect humans.

Damage of infrastructure can lead to unemployment, economic recession and poverty, while soil infertility can lead to food insecurity and hunger.



-Effects of Acid Rain on Plants and Animals

2). Deforestation

Acid rain is harmful to forests and other plant-dominated ecosystems [5].

In forests, the harmful effects of acid rain may ultimately result in large-scale loss of vegetation; or deforestation as it is alternatively called.

There are two mechanisms by which acid rain causes deforestation. The first of these is through soil leaching.

When soil absorbs acid rain, several of its nutrients are chemically altered and displaced. This reduces the ability of the soil to support plant growth.

In forests, this leads to gradual decline in the size of tree populations.

Deforestation may also occur when plants take up acid rainwater in an effort to detoxify the soil; also known as spontaneous bioremediation (or phytoremediation). As these plants absorb excessive amounts of carbonate, nitrate and sulfate; their cells may shrink as a result of osmotic dynamics. This ultimately reduces the growth and survival rates of the plants.

Extreme cases of acid rain infiltration in soil can increase the risk of desertification.

Effects of Acid Rain: Deforestation (Credit: Lovecz 2006)
Effects of Acid Rain: Deforestation (Credit: Lovecz 2006)


3). Soil Degradation (as one of the Effects of Acid Rain)

Acid rain can reduce the quality of soil and cause its degradation in various ways.

The most common is by leaching.

Infiltration of large amounts of acid rain into soil can leach and remove minerals and nutrients that are essential to the productivity and optimal functioning of the soil ecosystem [3].

Leaching and acidification reduce the rate of carbon sequestration and nutrient accumulation in soil, thereby diminishing its important role as a carbon sink that mitigates climate change and enriches the environment with sustainable carbon resources.

Acid rain may cause, or exacerbate soil erosion by changing the physicochemical properties and structural resilience of soil in such a manner that increases vulnerability to physical removal by erosive agents.

Acid rain also causes some elements like aluminum to accumulate in the soil in an unhealthy manner [4]. These changes all reduce the soil’s quality.


4). Biodiversity Loss

Organisms at all trophic levels of the energy pyramid are affected by acid rain.

Acid rain causes biodiversity loss by altering the sustainability of ecosystems, both in terms of available resources and tolerable conditions.

Ecologic resource depletion is often a product of the effects of acid rain on the environment. When water, soil sediments and nutrients are lost to acid rain effects, the survival of all organisms that depend on these resources is threatened.

As earlier mentioned, acid rain degrades soil and depletes vegetation. These effects imply that organisms which depend on vegetation and soil for shelter, food, or other purposes, are at risk in acid rain-prone ecosystems.

Since all organisms ultimately depend on plants for food, it is correct to state that all organisms are at risk of non-survival when and where acid rains are prevalent.

Aside soil and vegetation, acid rain can degrade aquatic ecosystems, causing organisms to decrease in population due to migration or mass deaths. These all lead to loss of biodiversity.



-Effects of Acid Rain on Economy

5). Infrastructural Damage (as one of the Effects of Acid Rain)

Acid rain affects infrastructure in a negative manner, and can cause the defacing, impairment, or complete destruction of such infrastructure.

Examples of infrastructure that can be damaged by acid rain include pavements, buildings, water dams, sculptures and monuments.

The severity of damage depends on factors like the duration of exposure, materials that comprise the infrastructure, and acidity level of the rainwater.

Generally, infrastructure that are most susceptible to damage by acid rain, are comprised partly or entirely of carbonate materials like marble and limestone [1]. Since nearly all engineering structures contain some form of carbonate, it can be argued that all engineering structures are at risk of acid rain damage.

Acid rain damages infrastructure mainly through dissolution reactions; where sulfuric, carbonic and nitric acids react with and dissolve acid-soluble constituents of infrastructure. When such reactions occur repeatedly over time, crevices are created in the surface of the structure, where materials have been dissolved. In extreme cases, these crevices can multiply and deepen till structural integrity and resilience are compromised.

Aside engineering structures, acid rain can also damage the surfaces of vehicles, and may corrode industrial facilities like pipelines.

Effects of Acid Rain: Infrastructure Damage (Credit: Interminatispazi 2007 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Effects of Acid Rain: Infrastructure Damage (Credit: Interminatispazi 2007 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)




The effects of acid rain include;

1. Health Hazards

2. Deforestation

3. Soil Degradation

4. Biodiversity Loss

5. Infrastructural Damage




1). Daoud, H.; Rashed, K. A.; Rasheed, F. A. (2016). “Effect of acidic and basic water on the geomechanical properties of limestone used in decoration of buildings in Iraq.” Available at: https://doi.org/10.17656/jzs.10506. (Accessed 13 October 2022)..

2). Goyer, R. A.; Bachmann, J. D.; Clarkson, T. W.; Ferris, B. G.; Graham, J.; Mushak, P.; Perl, D. P.; Rall, D. P.; Schlesinger, R. B.; Sharpe, W. E. (1985). “Potential Human Health Effects of Acid Rain: Report of a Workshop.” Environmental Health Perspectives 60:355-68. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.8560355. (Accessed 12 November 2022).

3). Kelly, J. M.; Strickland, R. (1987). “Soil nutrient leaching in response to simulated acid rain treatment.”Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Soil-nutrient-leaching-in-response-to-simulated-Kelly-Strickland/f4b0383bead8715ae5c5169ca81f7bb14486e180. (Accessed 13 November 2022).

4). Nawaz, R.; Parkpian, P.; Garivait, H.; Anurakpongsatorn, P.; Delaune, R. D.; Jugsujinda, A. (2012). “Impacts of Acid Rain on Base Cations, Aluminum, and Acidity Development in Highly Weathered Soils of Thailand.” Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 43(10):1382-1400. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00103624.2012.670347. (Accessed 13 November 2022).

5). Singh, A.; Agrawal, M. (2008). “Acid rain and its ecological consequences.” Journal of Environmental Biology 29(1):15-24. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18831326/. (Accessed 12 November 2022).

Similar Posts