Environmental Effects of Air Pollution

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Along with harming human health, air pollution can cause a variety of environmental effects: Acid rain is precipitation containing harmful amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids. These acids are formed primarily by nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. These acids fall to the Earth either as wet precipitation (rain, snow, or fog) or dry precipitation (gas and particulates). Some are carried by the wind, sometimes hundreds of miles. In the environment, acid rain damages trees and causes soils and water bodies to acidify, making the water unsuitable for some fish and other wildlife. It also speeds the decay of buildings, statues, and sculptures that are part of our national heritage. Acid rain has damaged Massachusetts lakes, ponds, rivers, and soils, leading to damaged wildlife and forests. For more information on acid rain, go to http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/.

Eutrophication is a condition in a water body where high concentrations of nutrients (such as nitrogen) stimulate blooms of algae, which in turn can cause fish kills and loss of plant and animal diversity. Although eutrophication is a natural process in the aging of lakes and some estuaries, human activities can greatly accelerate eutrophication by increasing the rate at which nutrients enter aquatic ecosystems. Air emissions of nitrogen oxides from power plants, cars, trucks, and other sources contribute to the amount of nitrogen entering aquatic ecosystems.

Haze is caused when sunlight encounters tiny pollution particles in the air. Haze obscures the clarity, color, texture, and form of what we see. Some haze-causing pollutants (mostly fine particles) are directly emitted to the atmosphere by sources such as power plants, industrial facilities, trucks and automobiles, and construction activities. Others are formed when gases emitted to the air (such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) form particles as they are carried downwind. For more...
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