Acid deposition readily affects metals, marble and limestone, and it is accelerating the degradation of buildings and monuments in the U.S. and abroad. Some of those affected in this country include the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument and the Capitol. "The east side of the Capitol is white Lee marble from Lee, Mass.," says Dr. Erhard Winkler of Notre Dame. "There are craters one-quarter inch or more in it. It looks like shrapnel has hit it. What has happened is that because of acid precipitation, the hard minerals in the marble had changed to talc."
With one or two exceptions, the impact of acid precipitation on crops and forests has yet to be scientifically determined. There are more variables to contend with in terrestrial ecosystems than aquatic ecosystems. But ex-continued perimental work with simulated acid rain has shown a number of harmful effects on crops, such as the leaching of nutrients from foliage, the inhibition of nitrogen fixation essential to photosynthesis and the reduced yields of pinto beans and soybeans. Indeed, Dr. Lance Evans of New York's Manhattan College estimates that as a result of acid precipitation soybean farmers annually suffer a loss of $50 million because of a 1% reduction in yield.
Probably the most significant work on North American forests is that being done in the Green Mountains by Dr. Hubert Vogelmann and Margaret Bliss of the University of Vermont and Dr. Thomas E. Siccama of Yale. In a paper to be published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club (a peer-review journal), they report a startling 50% dieback in red spruce on Camels Hump. Jay Peak, Bolton Mountain and Mount Abraham. The dieback has occurred in the last 15 years on land that the scientists had previously studied. "Examination of dying trees has not revealed disease organisms," they write. "The fact that trees of all ages become necrobiotic suggests that they are under environmental stress, but it is not clear what stress or stresses are involved.... Red spruce decline is especially pronounced at upper mountain elevations where precipitation is high and fog is of frequent occurrence. Studies currently underway in the Green Mountains indicate that both rain and fog at these elevations are highly acid.... Heavy metals (i.e., lead, copper and zinc) are known to be accumulating in forest soils at upper elevations. Since the environment of high elevations is normally fragile, it is possible that recent atmospheric pollution is sufficient to tip the balance of trees already growing in a stressed situation."
What's being done to curtail acid precipitation? A lot, in Canada. Canadians know they have a great deal to lose besides lakes and rivers. Forest products are the biggest industry in that country. The single largest source of sulfur dioxide emissions in North America is the International Nickel Company's nearly one-quarter-mile-high superstack, the tallest in the world, in Sudbury, Ontario. Every day the stack-spews 2,500 tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, and some of it reaches the U.S. The stack used to exude more than 5,000 tons of sulfur dioxide a day, but INCO is now under provincial orders to cut emissions to 1,950 tons a day by 1983 and make further reductions thereafter to the lowest feasible level. Until last year, provincial governments set the standards for emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides—much in the manner that the Reagan Administration is planning to propose that emissions regulations be established by individual states—but Canada amended that law in 1980, giving Parliament the authority to control sources that contribute to pollution "across national boundaries."
But Canada can't go it alone. Two-thirds of the sulfuric acid that falls there originates in the U.S., and Canada is waiting to see what the U.S. is going to do when Congress and the Administration reconsider the Clean Air Act, probably in December. If the utility industry has its way, the U.S. will not take effective action now.
Utility arguments against control of emissions sometimes are absurd, but the industry also presents the following seemingly cogent points:
•It is unclear whether precipitation is becoming more acid in the East. That's true, but there are large areas of the U.S. and Canada that can't endure anywhere near current levels of acidity without suffering further damage.
•Fish in Florida lakes with a low pH "show no sign of dying." Correct. What isn't said is that the fish are stunted and emaciated.
•The "three lakes in the Adirondacks" argument. This is a favorite of Dr. Ralph Perhac of the Electric Power Research Institute. On Feb. 27, 1980, Perhac testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that: "In EPRI's lake acidification study, we have found three lakes in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State which have very different acidities, yet these lakes lie within a few miles of each other and chemistry of the rainfall is the same at all three. Obviously some factor other than precipitation is responsible for the acidity." What Perhac didn't tell the Congressmen was that the three lakes in question—they happen to be Panther, Sagamore and Woods, Bill Marleau's old favorite—have different buffering capacities. On March 19, 1980. Perhac repeated the same testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Environmental Pollution.
•Sudden acidification of a body of water, in itself, may not be responsible for fish kills. Perhac used this argument before both the House and Senate subcommittees last year, and he cited a case of a kill that occurred in the Tovdal River in Norway in early 1975. It's true that the sudden acidification "in itself," to quote Perhac's hedge phrase, didn't kill the fish. What Perhac didn't say was that it was determined that the likely killing agent was aluminum, mobilized by the acid snowmelt.