How Does Acid Rain Affect Humans & Animals?

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this experiment, we'll be studying the effects of acid rain on humans and animals. To do this, we'll be looking at the effect of acid on calcium carbonate, an important biological component of both humans, animals and the environments we live in.


Research question: How does the pH of a liquid affect the structure of calcium carbonate?
Age: Middle school and up
Safety concerns: None
Time: 2 days

Imagine a pleasant, rainy day. A light drizzle covers the sky and you get to wear your favorite rain boots and bring your new umbrella out. The water is actually refreshing after such a hot summer. Now, picture that same scene but instead of a gentle rainfall, the rain eats through your umbrella, burns trees and eats away at buildings. This situation is caused by acid rain. Although acid rain doesn't always act quite so quickly, over time it poisons the water, burns plants and trees and eats away at our buildings and cars.

A gargoyle damaged by acid rain

Acid rain, any type of precipitation with a pH of 4, is a major global problem and is caused by excessive pollutants like sulfuric and nitric acid in the atmosphere. For more information on acid rain, you can watch this lesson: Acid Rain: Effects & Causes.

Acid rain is especially damaging to structures made of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate makes up sedimentary rocks, like limestone and marble, which are used in buildings, marine life, and even our own teeth and bones. For more information on limestone, check out this lesson: What Is Limestone? - Properties, Types & Uses.

Today, we'll be testing the affect of an acid, vinegar, on another form of calcium carbonate, chalk. Before you get started, think about why acid rain might destroy calcium carbonate in particular. What do you expect to see in your experiment?


  • 2 pieces of chalk
  • 2 small glasses
  • 1/4 cup of vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 strips of pH paper
  • 2 pieces of plastic wrap to cover the cups
  • 2 pieces of masking tape and a permanent marker
  • Data table:

Substance Rain Type pH Results
Water Normal
Vinegar Acid rain


1. First, using your masking tape and marker, label one cup water and one cup vinegar.

2. Next, place a piece of chalk in each container.

3. Fill the cup labeled vinegar with 1/4 cup vinegar and the cup labeled water with 1/4 cup water.

4. Use the pH paper to test the pH of each container and record this in your data table.

5. Cover the glasses with the plastic wrap and let rest overnight.

6. The next day, unwrap the glasses and record your results.


If your liquids are evaporating, you won't get accurate results. Make sure your glasses are wrapped tightly, or use a container with a lid. Make sure the vinegar has an acidic pH, preferably around 4 to represent the acid rain. You may need to buy fresh vinegar.

Discussion Questions

What happened to the chalk in the vinegar and water?

Was your hypothesis supported? Why or why not?

What other liquids could represent acid rain?

How It Works

Calcium carbonate is a base, or a substance that accepts hydrogen ions. Vinegar is an acid, which donates hydrogen ions. When an acid comes in contact with a base, the acid gives a hydrogen ion to the base. This causes the base molecules to break apart and get together with the hydrogen ion, forming water.

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