I. Hobinka Fazekas Grammar School, Budapest, Hungary
M. Riedel Eötvös University, Budapest, Hungary
1. Introduction and goal
It is important to spread an environmentally conscious culture
among young people, since students taking an active part in investigations
of the environment can be expected to become active members of
the society aiming to protect the environment. They will also
get accustomed to basing opinion on facts resulting from experiments,
which - with some limitations - they themselves will be able to
measure as well. Thereby they will be able to differentiate between
true, false or even distorted information.
2. Acid rain monitoring network
The chemical pollution of the environment has a wide variety
of origins, such as sewage, fertilization, fuel burning, heavy
metal wastes, etc. Acid rain is one of the serious environmental
problems all over the word. The expression "acid rain"
is, however, not new: R. A. Smith used it for the first time in
1872. The increasing acid content of rain water leads to the acidification
of surface waters, to the increase of metal ion concentration,
to the destruction of living creatures, like damage of forests,
to the increased corrosion of buildings, statues, etc. For examples
one-third of the Black Forest in Central Europe was damaged, and
the corrosion damage in Hungary is estimated to tens of millions
The acid content of rain water can be attributed chiefly to the burning of fossil fuels which create carbon dioxide (CO2) and as by-products sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). These are converted by oxidation and by reactions with water into carbonic acid, sulfuric acid and nitric acid, in which form they appear in rain water. They are the results of complicated chain reactions. In the oxidation process ozone (O3) and the free OH. radical play an essential role. The degree of rain acidity is characterized by the pH value. It is known that the pH of pure water which is in equilibrium with the carbon dioxide content of the air (0.03%, p(CO2) = 30.4 Pa) is 5.6 due to the equilibrium:
CO2 + H2O H2CO3 H+ + HCO3-
The water in an open flask contains about 25 times more acid than
the pure H2O. This value should be regarded
as the neutral point of the rain, so acid rain has a pH<5.6.
Coal and oil consumption is growing fast world-wide, and therefore
the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is growing
continuously. Generally, the concentration of SO2
has appeared constant during the last two decades because of the
applied sulfur binding methods in the developed countries, but
the amount of NOx shows a continuous rise.
The production of these substances in the world is not equal.
In heavily industrialized countries the acid pollution is especially
high and in large cities rain water may reach a pH of 3.0-3.5.
These endangered areas take about 5% of the Earth. In the decade
from 1980 to 1990 the total SO2 output decreased
by 23%, the total NOx output increased by
7%. Comparing it with the statistics of 1950, it will be clear,
that the total output increased by 5 times. In 1980 the 2.9%,
in 1990 the 2.6% of the total European sulfur output comes from
Hungary, because of the use of domestic coals of high sulfur content.
The same statistics for nitrogen shows 1.2% and 1.1%, respectively
The acidity of rainfall is an environmental parameter, which
can be examined satisfactorily and regularly even at the schools'
level. Since schools can be found everywhere, possibly even in
very polluted areas, statistical analysis of data arriving from
many schools could provide valuable information to detect local
anomalies. Such environmental investigations have already been
run in several countries, e.g. in Germany, France, Great-Britain,
USA, Japan, Norway, Malaysia. We established in Hungary an acid
rain examining network of schools called "SEMI" in 1990
. Students and teachers of some 80 schools from almost every
part of Hungary take part its work.
The measurement of the pH of rain water of low buffer capacitance
involves many difficulties [6,7]. The measurement with glass electrode
is precise enough in case if suitable calibration, but the implementation
requires high skills, and the needed equipment is not cheap either.
For investigations in schools the color indicators in form of
commercially available (e.g. Merck) "non bleeding indicator
strips" proved to be most suitable . In this product the
indicator dye is bound to the paper with covalent bonding. After
washing out one can use the strips several times. It is cheap,
easy to use, with a precision of about 0.2-0.5 pH unit. The setting
in of the stable equilibrium color needs 1/2 - 2 hours because
of the low ion concentration.
In course of the work of the SEMI project much interesting data
have built up concerning the local and time distribution of acid
rain in our country. From the data provided by schools one can
see that in the period 1990 - 1994 in the country different kinds
of rainfall had been observed between pH 3.0 and 7.5 with a significant
dispersion of time and areas. The average for whole Hungary is
about pH = 4.6, which could even be pH = 3.8 without the neutralizing
effect of the dust of limy soils. This is almost identical with
the data of the official observations between 1978 and 1982 .
There are, however, big local differences caused by the local
pollution and neutralizing effects. In Budapest we examined about
300 rain samples so far, according which the capital of Hungary
is a much polluted area with average of pH = 4.2. In the 100 km
radius around Budapest in the small settlements the average is
about pH = 5.6. So, the rain in Hungary has in average one magnitude
higher acid content than the neutral rain, but our country is
still considered as a medium-polluted area in Europe. The total
quantity of acids in the form of rain and dry precipitation is
equivalent of 0.2 mol H+ annually per m2
that is equivalent of about 10 cm3
3. Blue Danube chemical status monitoring
We joined the UNESCO supported project "Blue Danube" in 1992. One of its goals is to monitor the chemical quality along the whole Danube. From the most important 8 chemical parameters which determine the quality of the natural river waters the Chemical Index (CI) is calculated by the formula
where Pi is a dimensionless quantity
proportional to the measured chemical parameter and Ei
is a weighing number expressing the influence of the given parameter
on the total quality of the water [8, 9]. The CI is an average
which expresses the over all quality of the water, and ranges
1 - 100, i.e. from dead to healthy, clean water.
We applied simple commercially available rapid chemical tests
(e.g. Merck, Riedel de Haën, Macherey and Nagel, Analaqua,
Radelkis, etc.) for the in situ measurements of the different
parameters . All the methods are environmentally harmless.
Oxygen concentration and 5 days biological oxygen consumption
of the water were measured by means of a portable instrument
with plastic membrane electrode. Simultaneous measurement was
made by the traditional Winkler method, too. Accuracy of reading
was: ± 2 %, which corresponds to ± 0,1 mg/dm3.
Temperature was measured on the site with 0,1 oC
scaled thermometer. NH4+-, NO3--
and PO43--ions were measured with rapid colorimetric
method. The accuracy of reading was logarithmically depending
on the measured range, typically ± 10 %. pH was measured
with a portable pH-meter with glass electrode. Accuracy of reading:
0,01 pH. Conductance was measured with portable digital
instrument connected to an electrochemical conductance measuring
cell. Accuracy of reading: ± 1 S/cm.
The sampling of water was done at the Petõfi Bridge in
Budapest once every week. In the measured period the CI was between
55 and 75 in Budapest, so the water qualification was second classed,
that is, moderately polluted. We calculated the CI also from the
data of the literature  measured in the 1970's
resulting CI=71(65). The comparison shows that the water quality
has not changed dramatically in the past decades. The short-time
changes of the CI in the tested period show however, some slight
fluctuations (e.g. maximum at the end of July, minimum in the
beginning of June and in the end of August).
To follow the fate of one particular water volume of the Danube
when passing the Hungarian territory we organized 3 expeditions
during spring and summer of 1994 from Komárom to Mohács,
along about 300 km. The speed of the Danube water is 7 km/h on
the upper section (between 1800 and 1600 river km) and 6 km/h
in the lover section (1600-1400 river km), consequently the flowing
along lasts 2 and a half days. The staff of the expeditions were
transported by motor boats, cars and railway. We take samples
in every 15 km in the middle of the river. The samples were analyzed
directly after taking it out from the river on the deck of the
boat or at the shore. The 15 km distance and the speed of the
water determined the about 2 hours' frequency of the sampling.
During the day it caused a very stepped up work, since the complete
series of measurements of the 8 parameters even with parallels
needed about more than one hour. During the night some measurement
points left out, because the colorimertic method needs daylight.
After sunrise the motorboat of the expedition reached the traced
water mass. Entering the upper area of higher water speed the
CI = 75, at Budapest it falls to 50, then it is constant with
small fluctuations in the industrial area (60), at the national
park of Gemenc it is again 70, coming into again to urban territories
it drops to 60. Its quality remains in the slightly polluted class.
4. Mátraderecske waters studied by the workshop of the
The participants of the workshop of the Rio Followup Conference
made measurements of some chemical parameters of the natural waters
sampled during the Mátraderecske excursion. The results
are summarized in the table.
|origin of water||property||value||remark|
|brook crossing the village||NO2- concentration||0.3 mgl||high|
|O2 concentration||6.7 mgl|
|CO2 containing well of an old woman||NO3-concentration||25-50 mgl||high|
|O2 concentration||0.4 mgl||very low|
|total hardness||over 40||very high|
5. General remark and conclusion
The most important consequence of the 5 years' student research
projects SEMI and Blue Danube is that the scientific and the emotional
influence of this work on our students was significant. Even the
chemistry teachers of our retraining courses accept and follow
The projects were supported by the Pro Renovanda Cultura Hungariae
Foundation, the Town Council of Budapest and the Ministry of Environment
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10. Merckoquant-Tests, E. Merck, Darmstadt, Germany
11. Benedek P. et al.: Hidrológiai Közlöny, 1976,
No 2., 50