Acid Rain

Author: Kirstin Bittel
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

Time: 2 class periods
5-10 minutes making copies
Materials: Access to computer lab

While the human health impacts from acid rain are not direct, the pollutants which cause acid rain, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) do damage human health (EPA Acid Rain & Human Health). Students will use real-time weather maps to determine the likelihood of acid rainfall in a region. Students will apply their understanding of interaction between weather systems, land and air pollution, to address acid rain and the effects on human health.

Students will be able to:
1. Use the following to determine likelihood of acid rain falling in a specific U.S. region:
a. temperature,
b. dew point,
c. landforms, and
d. front information.
2. Describe in writing the link between acid rain and environmental health.

National Science Education Standard:
CONTENT STANDARD D: Earth and Space Science


• Earth systems have internal and external sources of energy, both of which create heat. The sun is the major external source of energy. Two primary sources of internal energy are the decay of radioactive isotopes and the gravitational energy from the earth’s original formation.
• Heating of earth’s surface and atmosphere by the sun drives convection within the atmosphere and oceans, producing winds and ocean currents.
• Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near the earth’s surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes, such as cloud cover and the earth’s rotation, and static conditions, such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.


• Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by the earth’s internal and external energy sources. These movements are often accompanied by a change in the physical and chemical properties of the matter. Carbon, for example, occurs in carbonate rocks, such as limestone, in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas, in water as dissolved carbon dioxide, and in all organisms as complex molecules controlling life’s chemistry.

Teacher Background
(From http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/air/monops/lessons/acidrainlesson.html)

Acid rain has higher acidic levels and forms through a complex process of chemical reactions involving air pollution. The two most important pollutants contributing to acid rain formation are oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, which react with atmospheric moisture to form nitric and sulfuric acid. The sulfur and nitrogen compounds contributing to acid rain primarily come from manmade sources like factory industries and utilities. Emissions also come from transportation and industrial processes, such as smelting.

Acid rain can do the following:
a. harm forests and crops,
b. damage bodies of water, and
c. contribute to the damage of statues and buildings.
Researchers are considering the possible effects of acid rain on human health. These acidic pollutants can be deposited through rain, snow, fog, dew, or sleet. Large quantities can also be deposited in dry form through dust.

Pollutants which contribute to acid rain may drift hundreds of miles before depositing on the earth, creating difficultly in determining the specific sources of the acid rain pollutants.

Resource Websites
EPA On Acid Rain: http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/effects/health.html
Environmental Literacy Council on Acid Rain: http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/2.html
Environment Canada: http://www.ec.gc.ca/acidrain/acidhealth.html
Wundergroud: http://www.wunderground.com/US/Region/US/Fronts.html
TCEQ: http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/air/monops/lessons/acidrainlesson.html
Wikipedia on Acid Rain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_rain
USGS on Acid Rain: http://bqs.usgs.gov/acidrain/index.html
Report on Acid Rain: http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/resources/arsenic/acidrain.pdf (PDF)



This lesson requires that students have Internet access.

1. Ask students what they know about acid rain. Identify any misconceptions in their understanding of acid rain. Do they know how it forms? Does acid rain affect human health? How? Using the teacher background and the EPA website discuss acid rain and how it relates to human health.

2. Ask students why different areas might be affected to a greater or lesser extent. How might atmospheric conditions impact this environmental health issue?

3. Tell students they will be researching specific U.S. and related regions and predicting their acid rain impact.

4. Divide the class into 9 groups, each one representing a region:

a. NW Region,
b. SW Region,
c. South-central Region,
d. Midwest Region,
e. Northeast Region,
f. Southeast Region,
g. Alaskan Region,
h. Hawaiian Region, and
i. Puerto Rican Region).

Students will address the class on the region’s (1) acid rain impact, (2) what relationship the propensity has to the presence of the acid rain toxicants and (3) the health risks of the toxicants. Using what they know about climate patterns, students should identify their region’s frequency and quantity of precipitation. They must look for places likely having high levels of industry, automobile emission, and/or smelting.

5. They should discuss how the specific climate processes and pollutants may contribute to their region’s acid rain and prepare a report explaining the likelihood of acid rain. What might be contributing to their region’s air pollution? What maps will support their claims?

6. Have students take a full day to share their reports with the class. Reports should have maps and other evidence supporting their claims.


7. Ask students to consider their region for the major project. Based upon what they know do they predict acid rain to be a concern? What can they do in the design of their healthy city to avoid acid rain? Why is this important to human health?


If applicable

Embedded Assessment

Do students synthesize the information from the past week determining what areas are likely to suffer from acid rain and demonstrate this in their class presentations? Are students able to explain in writing the link between acid rain and human health concerns?



PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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