Acidity is of little concern from a sanitary or public health viewpoint. Carbon dioxide is present in malt and carbonated beverages in concentrations greatly in excess of any concentrations known in natural waters, and no deleterious effects due to the carbon dioxide have been recognized. Waters that contain mineral acidity are so unpalatable that problems related to human consumption are nonexistent.
Acid waters are of concern because of their corrosive characteristics and the expense involved in removing or controlling the corrosion-producing substances. The corrosive factor in most waters is carbon dioxide, but in many industrial wastes it is mineral acidity. Carbon dioxide must be reckoned with in water-softening problems where the lime or lime-soda ash method is employed.
Where biological processes of treatment are used, the pH must ordinarily be maintained within the range of 6 to 9.5. This criterion often requires adjustment of pH to favorable levels, and calculation of the amount of chemicals needed is based upon acidity values in most cases.
Combustion of fossil fuels in power plants and automobiles leads to the formation of oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, which when mixed with rain, hydrolyze to form sulfuric and nitric acids. The resulting acid rain can lower the pH in poorly buffered lakes, adversely affecting aquatic life, and can increase the amount of chemicals, such as aluminum, leached from soil into surface runoff. For these reasons, control has been placed on the amount of sulfur and nitrogen oxides that can be discharged to the atmosphere through combustion.
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