Taking On Acid Rain
9/15/1999 — — WHAT IS ACID RAIN?
Scientists have determined that acid rain develops when pollution, mostly from coal-fired electric power plants, enters the atmosphere and returns to the ground in the form of acid rain. Specifically, nitrogen oxides and disulfur oxide have been identified as the number one culprits contributing to acid rain. These air pollutants are picked up by prevailing winds and blown from west to east.
HOW DOES ACID RAIN HARM THE ENVIRONMENT?
Acid rain falls on our nation’s forests and waters everyday. It poisons lakes and streams, kills fish and other aquatic animals, damages tree leaves and strips nutrients away from forest soil. Scientists have been documenting the ecological destruction caused by acid rain, fog and snow for decades.
HOW ARE AMERICA’S STREAMS, RIVERS AND LAKES HARMED BY ACID RAIN?
Rivers, lakes and streams all possess a limited capacity to neutralize acid formed by nitrogen oxides and disulfur oxide. Watersheds on limestone bedrock have virtually unlimited Acid Neutralizing Capacity (ANC), but watersheds with other types of bedrock eventually use up their ANC when subjected to continued acid deposition. As the ANC (which has been compared to Tums in the soil) is used up, watersheds are subjected to “acid pulses” during rainstorms and snowmelt; water too acidic for the stream to neutralize quickly kills trout and other fish, as well as insects and other parts of the ecosystem. An apparently healthy stream can deteriorate rapidly once its ANC is used up.
WHERE HAS ACID RAIN POSIONED OUR WATER?
Acid precipitation hammers the fragile streams of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, Virginia’s Blue Ridge, and other vulnerable ecosystems from Georgia to Maine.
- New York’s Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and the Appalachian Mountains are suffering the worst. More than 500 of the Adirondack’s 2,800 lakes and ponds can no longer support the plant and animal life they once did.
- A 1998 Trout Unlimited study found that 50 percent of 304 Virginia streams sampled are currently ‘acidic,’ including six percent diagnosed at ‘Chronically Acidic’ which means they cannot host viable populations of brook trout or other fish species. The TU study also found that if no reductions are made to air pollution, 88 additional Virginia brook trout streams will become chronically acidic, or “ecologically dead,” by the year 2041.
HOW CAN ACID RAIN BE STOPPED?
While experts say the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act have successfully reduced acid rain — and at a much lower cost than had been predicted — scientists have learned since 1990 that further cuts on a wider range of pollutants are needed to address the problem fully.
This year, common sense legislation S. 172 was introduced by Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and H.R. 25 by U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) to cut acid rain and save our vulnerable eastern waterways. In simple terms, this legislation would require deeper reductions in the pollutants emitted by power plants. It would cut utility emissions of sulfur dioxide in half and cut nitrogen oxides even further, capping emissions of nitrogen oxides at 70 percent of 1990 levels.
HOW CAN I HELP STOP ACID RAIN?
For more information or to learn how you can help stop the devastation of acid rain, contact Trout Unlimited at (703) 522-0200 or www.tu.org.