Acid rain damage in Midwest proves especially severe

The Midwest's acid rain problem may be as great as the well-publicized problems in the Northeast. That's the conclusion of several researchers who outlined their findings at a conference here Friday and Saturday. It was sponsored by the National Clean Air Fund and other groups. Among the findings: Urban impact. Acid rain damage to structures amounts to an estimated $44.85 for each Chicago resident per year. In Louisville, $14.63; in Cleveland $27.97. These estimates are at best educated guesses, says Frederick Lipfert, a consultant on leave from the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Impact on forests. Damage in the Ohio River Valley may be more extensive than anywhere else in the nation, says Dr. Orie Loucks, director of the Holcomb Research Institute.

Impact on lakes. Some 12 percent of the lakes and streams of Michigan's Upper Peninsula already have been damaged by acidification, says a senior research chemist with the Environmental Protection Agency. And 43 percent of Upper Midwest lakes are vulnerable. Acid rain -- not leaching from acid in the soil, as previously thought -- can account for most of the mercury contamination of large fish in the Midwest's acidic lakes.

A primary cause of the acid-rain problem has long been suspected to be emissions from coal-fired power plants using high-sulfur coal, although many natural causes have been established as well. After over 5,000 studies ``the scientists are telling us that we can't afford to wait until we know all the answers,'' says Rep. Gerry Sikorski (D) of Minnesota, who is working on a bill to address the problem.

The coal industry is resisting sulfur-emission control programs. On Tuesday the National Coal Association will release a report showing sulfur emissions from coal-fired plants were down 2.2 percent between 1980 and 1984. -- 30 --

The industry, however, is resisting programs that would force the installation of expensive cleaning equipment in the coal-fired plants. On Tuesday [eds. March 11], the National Coal Association will release a report showing that sulfer emissions from virtually all its coal-fired plants have been reduced by some 2.2 percent between 1980 and 1984, the Monitor has learned. That decrease has come about even though the consumption of coal increased 18 percent during the same period, according to the association.

According to many scientists and others, the scientific evidence is enough to require tougher emission standards on coal-fired plants.

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