Acid rain, caused predominantly by oil and coal burning, smelting, and car exhaust, has been falling throughout most parts of the east coast of the U. S. The acidity of the rain contaminates the soils, damages crops, stunts the growth of trees by possibly more than 10 percent, lowers the pH of even the most remote high altitude lakes, thus wiping out entire native fish species and causes other potentially disastrous occurrences.
Today in over 50 percent of all the Adirondack lakes, about 2,000 feet in elevation–the ones most remote from civilization — all the fish have died. Lakes that have been famous for trout for the last century now cannot even support minnows.
Biologists at Cornell University have found that rain and snow throughout the eastern U. S: presently falls with 100 times more acidity than it did a generation ago. Further studies indicate that in most areas the soil quickly neutralizes the acid. But in thin, sandy soils, such as those found in high mountainous areas, the acid precipitation runs off, unchanged, into the lakes. The “unbuffered” rain of the 1970’s is acidic enough to kill off most freshwater fish east of the Mississippi: In the Adirondacks, most of the water is too acidic to allow fish to reproduce.
The problem is wide-ranging because of the nature of rain. The pollution that causes the acidity (sulfuric and nitric acid) can originate thousands of miles from where the rain finally falls. The closest thing to point source-crackdown would have to occur at the electrical generating plants and industrial sites of Detroit, Chicago, and southern Ontario. Yet the opposition to air cleanup by these plants has been fierce.
Norway and Sweden are already experiencing a full-blown ecological crisis due to acid rain, polluted by industrialized Europe: Salmon fisheries in thousands of lakes and streams have been wiped out and millions of salmon have been killed.
The world-wide and intensive damaging effects of acid rain, and this issue’s scanty coverage, nominate this story for one of the “Best Censored Stories of 1977.”
“Look What They’ve Done to the Rain,” by Alan MacRobert, Mother Jones magazine, December, 1977, pp. 65-67:
“News Briefs,” Not Man Apart, Mid-September, 1977, p. 9.