15th February 1817

The father of acid rain is born

Robert Smith, better known as Angus Smith, was a man ahead of his time. Born outside Glasgow, he spent some time as a teacher before studying for a doctorate in chemistry. As he entered his late forties, by which time he was living and working in Manchester, his interests had evolved a distinctly environmental slant.

He was appointed to various official committees conducting inspections of polluting businesses to make sure they were taking the necessary steps to reduce the number of harmful elements they were releasing into the environment.

Effect of air pollution

This allowed him to research the effects of air pollution on populations living in built-up areas, and to argue that the result could be subtle but long-term damage to health, which is far better understood today. Reporting his death, the Edinburgh Evening News of 13 May 1884 noted that “his report to the British Association in 1848 on the Air and Water of Towns gave a great impulse to the question at that time, and a paper on the Air of Towns in the Chemical Society’s Journal of 1858 first produced data establishing the difference of the town and the country air wherever found.”

Naturally this led him to further consider the composition of the air around us and what passes through it. His studies led, ultimately, to his coining of the term “acid rain” to describe precipitation carrying sulfuric and nitric acids, which can be harmful to plants and aquatic animals. The term he coined for his research was “Chemical Climatology”.

Smith died in Wales on 12 May 1884, aged 67. The St James’s Gazette reported that, by then, he had been ill for some time. His interests had evolved once more as he aged, and he left behind several papers on Scottish history.



Other events that occured in February

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