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Recovery of Northeast ecosystems from acid rain damage will require deeper cuts in sulfur emissions, says new study published in BioScience
A study published March 26 by 10 leading acid rain researchers finds that lakes, forests and streams in the Northeastern United States are not recovering from the effects of acid rain despite emissions cuts required by 1990 changes to the Clean Air Act.
Charles Driscoll, Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Syracuse University, is the study’s primary author. He spoke about the study March 26 with media gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
An additional 80 percent reduction in sulfur emissions from electric utilities would be required to bring sensitive streams back to non-acidic levels within 20-25 years, a scientific model shows. The researchers conducted the study in the same New Hampshire forest where acid rain was first detected nearly 30 years ago, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. They found that years of acid rain have made these ecosystems more sensitive to additional pollution.
“Scientific research suggests that the greater the cuts in emissions, the greater the extent and rate of ecological recovery,” says Driscoll. “Based on our scientific model, we know that the Clean Air Act has reduced sulfur deposition, but recovery from years of acid deposition will require much deeper cuts than called for 10 years ago.”
The study, published in the March issue of BioScience, is the first to look at acid rain’s effect in the Northeast since the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that cut sulfur emissions from power plants. While progress has been made in cutting some emissions that cause acid rain, it will not be adequate for recovery in the Northeast and other acid-sensitive regions, the researchers contend.
The report documents the harm caused by acid rain and concludes that acid rain has caused greater environmental impacts than many had projected 10 years earlier, when the 1990 amendments of the Clean Air Act were implemented.
A summary of the BioScience article and “Acid Rain Revisited,” a 20-page report that translates the article for a lay audience, can be viewed at www.hbrook.sr.unh.edu/hbfound/hbfound.htm. The full article is available on the American Institute of Biological Sciences Web site at