With rain in the forecast, should Big Island residents be worried about acid rain?

Professor Businger explains acid rain
Updated: May. 8, 2018 at 5:51 PM HST
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PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - With rain in the forecast for the Puna area for the next several days, many are wondering about the dangers associated with acid rain given the ongoing eruptions in Leilani Estates.

What's acid rain? 

When magma gets close to the surface, volcanoes can emit sulfur dioxide, which can create vog.

Most residents of Hawaii are familiar with the term vog, which refers to the hazy air pollution caused by volcanic emissions from Kilauea volcano.

University of Hawaii Meteorologist Steven Businger said that "wherever you have a vog plume, you're going to have acid rain, if it's raining."

He said when vog, which is filled with sulfur dioxide, gets pulled up into a cloud it will turn that cloud more acidic, because it will change the sulfur dioxide into sulfuric acid.

When the cloud starts to produce rain, the toxins fall to the surface in the form of acid rain.

Can acid rain hurt me? 

Businger said there is actually not much of a health hazard associated with acid rain for most residents, saying "it's really about the least of their worries."

He says it is not concentrated enough to really have much effect on most people's skin, eyes, or hair.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency's web site says impacts that people have to worry about are not caused by the acid rain, but are caused when people breathe in these tiny particles or ozone.

The EPA says swimming in an acidic lake or walking in an acidic puddle is no more harmful to people than swimming or walking in clean water.

What can acid rain harm? 

Acid rain can be extremely harmful to forests, it seeps into the ground can dissolve nutrients, such as magnesium and calcium, that trees need to be healthy.

According to the EPA, acid rain also causes aluminum to be released into the soil, which makes it difficult for trees to take up water.

Acid rain can also have a damaging effect on many objects, including buildings, statues, monuments, and cars.

The chemicals found in acid rain can cause paint to peel and stone statues to begin to appear old and worn down, which reduces their value and beauty.

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