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What Is Acid Neutralizing Capacity?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Acid neutralizing capacity is a measurement of the buffering abilities in a sample of water. Testing can determine how much acid would need to be added to a quantity of water to change the pH. If it can’t buffer very well, the pH may drop quickly with exposure to acid. This has important implications for issues like water quality, chemical testing, and manufacturing. Technicians can measure acid neutralizing capacity in the evaluation of a sample.

In a simple illustration of why acid neutralizing capacity is important, environmentalists have concerns about acid rain in many regions of the world. When this rain falls in rivers with a high buffering capacity, they can neutralize the acid, keeping the pH stable. This allows organisms like plants and fish that depend on the river to survive, because the pH doesn’t drop outside their tolerance zone. If the river’s capacity for buffering is poor, it can become acidic, potentially killing organisms and creating an unbalanced ecosystem.

Water quality testing of rivers, lakes, and streams can include an assessment of acid neutralizing capacity. This testing can also be important for wastewater treatment, where technicians want to make sure treated water is appropriately balanced. Another use for it can be in evaluation of water used for irrigation, to confirm that it is safe to apply to crops. If it cannot buffer acids, it might not be suitable for some plants.

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Chemical labs also need to control the acid neutralizing capacity of water and other solutions they work with. This can prevent unexpected reactions or facilitate specific desired reactions. In evaluation of samples, technicians can note the pH and other characteristics. The information helps them identify unknown chemicals and can also assist with the selection of which tests to use next, and which equipment to use in testing. Failure to control for pH issues can result in problems with tests or chemical manufacturing.

Students in chemistry classes may be provided with instruction in how to perform this kind of testing. They can also conduct experiments to learn more about how acid neutralizing capacity works so they can apply their understanding to environmental chemistry and related subjects. A thorough knowledge of water chemistry can be critical for biologists who focus on riparian ecosystems and marine environments, where acid-base reactions can determine habitability for a variety of organisms. The same study can also help researchers understand how and why an environment becomes hostile to organisms that used to thrive there.

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