Acid Rain: a Very Real Problem

Regarding the opinion-page article "The Problem That Wasn't," May 7: In reality, the federal acid-rain-control program is one of the least expensive pollution-control programs in history. And there is mounting evidence that we should be reducing acid-rain-causing pollution even further to solve environmental and health problems.

Acid rain's main components are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, two forms of air pollution produced mainly by coal-fired power plants. While there have been disagreements over the extent of the damage being done by acid rain alone, there is no doubt among conscientious scientists that acid rain is harming ecosystems from northern Maine to the Chesapeake Bay.

Heavy metals in acid-rain-causing pollution (and the acidity itself) are causing high concentrations of aluminum and mercury in Adirondack waters. The aluminum breaks down gill tissue, killing huge numbers of fish. Mercury contamination can poison the people and wildlife who consume the fish.

The author's assertion that there may be no relationship between coal-fired air pollution and damage to the Adirondack Park's ecosystems is fallacy. The US Environmental Protection Agency now has monitors in place on the smokestacks of the plants causing acid rain in the Adirondack Park. Chemicals found in Adirondack lakes and streams (even in clouds) can now be traced directly back to their Midwestern-smokestack sources.

In short, the Competitive Enterprise Institute's spin on acid rain is a thinly veiled attempt to tear down the federal acid-rain-control program, which has cost industry less than half of what was expected in 1990. Given recent reports by the EPA, the American Lung Association, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we should be moving in precisely the opposite direction.

Reducing the amount of sulfur- and nitrogen-based pollution beyond what current laws require will only help each of us breathe more easily. And it will give the fragile forests of the Northeast a chance to heal.

Conservative Congressman Gerald Solomon (R) of New York understands this. He has introduced legislation to further curb air pollution in the Midwest (HR 2682). It's time to stop pretending acid rain is not a problem and to start cooperating on solutions.

John F. Sheehan

Elizabethtown, N.Y.

Communications Director

The Adirondack Council

To verify the statements made by the author, I consulted Dr. Barry Rock, a member of the Natural Resources Department at the University of New Hampshire.

He has done research in forest degradation around the world and is familiar with the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP) report mentioned in the article.

Below are some of the points Dr. Rock made:

*The statement that "NAPAP scientists could find forest damage from acid rain only in less than 0.1 percent of red spruces" is misleading, since it is not the rain that damages the spruce, but rather the clouds that produce it. When spruce forests are bathed in acidic clouds, heavy damage results.

*The NAPAP report did identify acid rain as a minor part of a larger problem that includes air pollutants and acidic cloud moisture. The loss of high-elevation forests is the result of the air pollutants and acid clouds (which produce the acid rain).

The actual role of acid rain is seen as more damaging to agriculture than it is to the high-elevation forests.

This article ignores the significant findings of NAPAP and focuses on one small finding: Acid rain is not killing spruce forests. Unfortunately, the precursors to acid rain (the clouds and other pollutants) are killing the spruce forests.

Filson H. Glanz

Durham, N.H.

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