Acid deposition, or acid rain as it is more commonly referred to, has become a widely publicized environmental issue in the U.S. over the past decade. The term usually conjures up images of fish kills, dying forests, "dead" lakes, and damage to monuments and other historic artifacts. The primary cause of acid deposition is emission of S02 and NOx to the atmosphere during the combustion of fossil fuels. Oxidation of these compounds in the atmosphere forms strong acids - H2SO4 and HNO3 - which are returned to the Earth in rain, snow, fog, cloud water, and as dry deposition.
Although acid deposition has only recently been recognized as an environmental problem in the U.S., it is not a new phenomenon (Cogbill & Likens 1974). As early as the middle of the 17th century in England, the deleterious effects of industrial emissions on plants, animals, and humans, and the atmospheric transport of pollutants between England and France had become issues of concern (Evelyn 1661, Graunt 1662). It is interesting that well over three hundred years ago in England, recommendations were made to move industry outside of towns and build higher chimneys to spread the pollution into "distant parts." Increasing the height of smokestacks has helped alleviate local problems, but has exacerbated others. In the U.S. the height of the tallest smokestack has more than doubled, and the average height of smokestacks has tripled since the 1950s (Patrick et al 1981). This trend occurred in most industrialized nations during the 20th century and has had the effect of transforming acid rain from a local urban problem into a problem of global scale.