Learning About Acid Rain

Learning About Acid Rain

[Judy Pino] Hello, and welcome to Green Scene, EPA’s series of environmental podcasts that you
can take with you. I’m Judy Pino. Acid rains is one of the most requested topics
here at EPA from school systems and teachers, and today, we are coming to you from the Koshland Science
Museum in Washington D.C., one of the nation’s premiere
environmental education interactive exhibition spaces. To introduce to you the acid rain teacher’s
guide as part of the EPA’s public outreach on acid rain and to
tell us more about this very important project is Brian McLean, of the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric programs, and students, who are here today
joining us from Kipp/Key Academy in southeast Washington, grades
6-8. Welcome everybody. All right Brian, well, you’ve been with the EPA
for 20 years and have been instrumental in developing EPA’s
programs to reduce acid rain. Can you tell us, what is acid rain and what EPA is doing about it? [Brian McLean] Okay, well, acid rain is a
fascinating problem, because it’s so complicated that people didn’t
understand it at first. It actually forms in the atmosphere from
pollutants that come from power plants mostly, and when it
mixes with moisture and other chemicals in the air, it transforms into acidic compounds, wet or dry compounds, that then later fall to the earth,
sometimes several hundred miles away. So when we first discovered these problems, they
were in the lakes in the Adirondacks in New York, and
there were no pollution sources around these lakes. People couldn’t understand why the lakes were
becoming acidic and the fish were dying. And it took people a long time to understand
that this pollution was actually moving hundreds of
miles from where the power plants were to where the
lakes were and falling on the trees and falling on the ground and into the lakes. So it took quite a bit of scientific
investigation before people connected the cause with the
transformation, the deposition of the chemicals onto the ground. [Judy Pino] So you, of all people, in 20 years
have been able to see a difference? [Brian Mclean] Yes, in fact, it took almost 20
years for people to really understand this problem before we began to solve
it. And that started — the solutions we imposed were in the 1990s. We passed the Clean Air Act, and then in 1995,
we began to reduce emissions from power plants all across the
United States. And since 1995, we’ve reduced them now by over
40 percent, and we have noticed changes. Deposition has changed, it’s less acidic. The lakes are becoming less acidic. So this turned out to be scientific
investigation that turned into, really, almost a grand
experiment in real time by reducing the emissions and then
measuring the effect of those reductions on the planet. [Judy Pino] As we mentioned, acid rain is one of
the topmost topics that people are requesting, and for that reason, we
created — EPA has created — a teacher’s guide. Tell us a little bit about that. [Brian McLean] Well, actually, even before we
started solving the problem, as we began to understand it and people were so
interested in it, we developed a teachers’ guide, back in the
early 1990s. And because we were getting so many requests —
people wanted to understand what was causing this and then
what can we do about it. And so back then, we were simply describing what
we understood about the problem, and we decided to put in some experiments so that students in school could
actually test and understand what was happening. And then, in the last several years, we’ve added
not only the information about it, but then we started
adding information about what we’re doing about it and
how we’re reducing emissions to deal with the problem. [Judy Pino] And this is not the first time that
EPA has created a teachers’ guide on acid rain. [Brian McLean] That’s correct, and what we’re
sort of announcing now is that we have updated this. We have new experiments in there for people to
use. We’ve tested those, and we’ve added a lot of new
information. [Judy Pino] And of course, we can’t visit one of
the premiere environmental education interactive exhibition spaces without doing a little science. And Flora Lernman [phonetic sp] is a teacher at Kipp/Key Academy. Thanks for being with us Flora. [Flora Lernman] Hi, nice to be here. [Judy Pino] Hi, and you have some of your
students here. They are doing some science experiments in the
guidebook — from the guidebook. [Flora Lernman] Yes, we’re actually doing
experiment number two from the guidebook, and right now these science
scholars are looking at different levels of acidity. They’re measuring the pH levels of fruits,
juices, and other household items. As you can see, these science scholars have
started already, and they’re now in the process of measuring and
recording their results. [Judy Pino] Okay guys, go ahead. In the meantime, we’ll continue talking. Brian, how important is it that the experiments
be easy for the teachers and the students, so they really
understand what acid rain is all about and how to prevent
it? [Brian McLean] Well, the basic concepts in the
experiments they’re doing are very similar to what we do in the real world. We use more sophisticated instruments, and we
have monitors all around the country checking out
what’s going on, but what they’re looking at is how you can
measure the acidity of various common things that we have around the
house, from fruits and vegetables to other liquids. We do the same thing, we’re measuring air, we’re measuring the soil, we’re measuring the
water in lakes, and we’re doing the same kind of think, except
with much more expensive instruments — [Judy Pino] Sure. [Brian McLean] — and much more widespread. But it’s the same kind of method that we use, and by understanding it, they can appreciate
what actually goes into evaluating and understanding a problem and solving a problem. [Judy Pino] Now, let’s talk to some of these
science scholars. I’m interested in knowing what you think about
acid rain and how important is it that you prevent acid rain? [Male Student] Well, it’s very important that
you prevent it, because it destroys our community and our trees, and so it
could affect us in some way. If you’re like a — like, if you love nature, then this is a big problem for you, and even for
people who don’t really love nature, so and it really
destroys our community and our houses — [Judy Pino] What about the science experiments? Do you think these are important so you guys can
understand a little more about acid rain? Yes? And what are you doing to prevent acid rain? [Male Student] To prevent acid rain, I’m trying
not to use as much electricity as I used to. [Judy Pino] That’s great advice, and we could
all learn from that, right Brian? [Brian McLean] Yes. [Judy Pino] And Brian, I understand that one of
the most popular aspects of this guide is the nine science
experiments, such as the one that the kids are doing today. Tell us about these experiments and the reason
for including them in the guide. [Brian McLean] Well, we’ve found that when
people want to understand a problem, the best thing to do is actually to
go through the process of experimenting and testing just
the way we would do and really understand that there are liquids
and chemicals and we can measure them. And so we have developed and, in the last few
years, revised these experiments to make them very to the point
and explicit so that people can understand, students can
understand, exactly what we do when we’re measuring. [Judy Pino] Okay guys, so the kids have been
working on their experiments. What are the results, teacher? [Flora Lernman] Well, as you can see, the soap
is a base, and the fruit and the juices and the soda are acids, and water is
close to neutral. [Judy Pino] Is that a good thing? [Flora Lernman] Mm-hmm, yeah, we want to keep
our water neutral so that it’s not acidic, so that when it comes down it’s not
acid rain. [Judy Pino] Okay, well, thank you very much. [Male Student] You’re welcome. [Male Student] You’re welcome. [Judy Pino] And thank you Brian McLean, of EPA’s
Office of Atmospheric Programs; Ms. Flora Lernman, teacher at Kipp/Key
Academy in Southeast; and all of our students in the
studio today; and of course, Koshland Science Museum in
downtown Washington D.C., one of the nation’s premiere environmental education interactive spaces for helping us out
with this very important Green Scene. For more information on what EPA is doing to
reduce acid rain, please visit www.epa.gov/acidrain. To find out more about the Koshland Science
Museum, go to the address on screen. The guide “Learning About Acid Rain: A Teacher’s
Guide for Grades 6-8” we should say is also available
online for download at www.epa.gov/acidrain. And of course, printed copies are available for
free through the acid rain hotline on the screen now. Thank you very much for being with us. Thanks Brian. .

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