What’s at Risk During Acid Rain Incidents

By Joe Quarantello, Senior Vice President

What’s at Risk During Acid Rain Incidents

Remember acid rain? It’s still out there – potentially. Imagine a paper mill smokestack starts emitting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air. The acidified rain falls down on the surrounding properties or, worst case scenario, on people. Acid rain may seem like a nightmare from the past, but it is an ongoing concern for many property owners living near power plants or smokestacks.

Modern power plants are equipped with scrubbers that remove sulfur compounds from their flue gases, which has helped reduce the problem of acid rain. But if the scrubbers aren’t working properly, fossil fuels that contain sulfur compounds can release sulfur dioxide during combustion and cause acid rain. Let’s dive into some of the risks associated with the issue.

Property Damage

Acid rain damage takes some distinctive forms. For property owners it may look like discoloration of paint on vehicles, houses that look prematurely aged, trees, bushes and plants dying, statues and monuments, especially ones made of marble or limestone appear worn (look around in an old cemetery and you’ll see older headstones that may have been exposed to acid rain are usually not legible anymore) or, it can also speed up corrosion of metals like iron, steel, copper and bronze.

For many business owners, a nearby power plant requires increased insurance coverage in case of acid rainfall. Overall values of property that have been damaged by acid rain will drop in value. While acid rain incidents can happen anywhere in the U.S., the regions most at risk include the southern parts of the country (Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana) where big petroleum companies are based, and parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, where industrial factories are operating.

Environmental Damage

Acid rain creates more aluminum in soil, which can decrease pH levels in water sources, causing lasting effects on forests, soil, plant life, and freshwater sources like lakes, streams and marshes, as well as well as insects, fish, frogs and other aquatic life.

One of the most harrowing scenes acid rain damage creates is dead forests. Trees in these ravaged stands are bare of foliage and falling over. Wildlife has left completely, and the soil is ruined and unable to provide nutrients for other kinds of plants.

Bodily Injury

In the worst case scenario, people are affected by acid rain. The toxic particles in the air can cause respiratory and heart problems. Asthma and bronchitis, for example, have been linked to acid rainfall.

Not directly related to acid rain, but still a risk concern, if a nearby industrial plant were to explode, employees of the business and neighbors could be harmed by the resulting fire and falling debris. Bodily injury claims from such an incident can add up into the millions of dollars, and then there are the remediation and property damage costs.

Over the decades, many safeguards have been put into place to mitigate acid rain. Plants monitor scrubbers to ensure they’re all working properly. Industrial companies have become more energy efficient and conscious about their effects on the environment. But while acid rainfall may not feel like an imminent danger, it could be a rude awakening for manufacturing plants not operating in compliance. For this reason, it’s important to have a Pollution Legal Liability policy that provides remediation, bodily injury, property damage and defense coverage for pollution events affecting people and property and that are excluded from traditional general liability policies. Have you reviewed your policy lately?

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