Sept. 21, 1981
Sept. 21, 1981

Table of Contents
Sept. 21, 1981

U.S. Open
Montreal Expos
What To Do
Pro Football
College Football
American Tragedy
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over


MAINE: Native brook trout have ceased reproducing in all small lakes over 2,000 feet in altitude. The pH in these lakes is 5 (pHs of less than 5.6 are hazardous to aquatic life). The headwater tributaries of at least five Atlantic salmon rivers are sufficiently acid to jeopardize the lives of young fish.

This is an article from the Sept. 21, 1981 issue Original Layout

NEW HAMPSHIRE: "The usual picture of acid-pickled lakes is beginning to emerge," says Ronald Towne, chief water pollution biologist of the state's Water Supply and Pollution Control Commission. "We have lakes with low pH, low alkalinities, no fish or missing year-classes, high aluminum." So far, Towne has found that seven high-altitude lakes he has been able to reach by car are "bad," but he hasn't been able to get funds for a helicopter needed to sample remote waters.

VERMONT: Several lakes in the Brooks Wilderness Area of the Green Mountain National Forest have a pH of 4, and two tributaries of the West River, Ball Mountain Brook and Wardsboro Brook have been acidified.

MASSACHUSETTS: Acid precipitation is pelting the state—this summer, the pH of a rainstorm in Lawrence was 2.9—and Massachusetts' fisheries and drinking-water supplies are both threatened by disaster. The Quabbin Reservoir, which supplies the Boston area, often registers surface water pH values in the 5s and 4s, according to Alan VanArsdale, head of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality Engineering's Acid Deposition Assessment Program. Other bodies of water that have lost their buffering capacity include the headwaters of the Westfield, Deerfield and Swift rivers; the Wachusett Reservoir, Atkins Reservoir, North Watuppa Pond, the reservoir for Fall River; a series of high-elevation (1,200 to 2,000 feet) ponds and reservoirs in the Berkshires; and the drinking-water ponds in Plymouth County. VanArsdale isn't optimistic about getting the EPA funds needed to investigate or improve the situation. "They're not going beyond step one to start funding activities in the Northeast," he says. "They're waiting till we scream bloody murder."

RHODE ISLAND: Officials are keeping a watch on the Scituate Reservoir system, which serves as the drinking-water supply for nearly half of Rhode Island. The total alkalinity of the reservoir is low, ranging from three to seven parts per million. The average pH of rain this summer was 3.5.

CONNECTICUT: A dozen lakes have a total alkalinity of less than five parts per million, but Charles Fredette Of the state's Department of Environmental Protection terms acid precipitation a "long-range" concern. "We don't have high-altitude lakes like New York or New Hampshire," says Fredette, "and we have relatively good buffering capacity."

NEW YORK: It has been documented that 212 Adirondacks lakes and ponds totaling some 10,460 acres are acidified and incapable of supporting fish life. What is infrequently pointed out is that this figure is derived from tests made on only a third of the lakes and ponds. From the same limited sample, another 256 lakes and ponds totaling 63,000 acres were judged to be in danger of losing their fish. The headwaters of the Hudson have been acidified in part. Other sensitive areas in the state include the Tug Hill Plateau to the west of the Adirondacks, the Catskill Mountains, the Shawangunk Mountains, the Hudson Highlands, the Palisades area and Long Island.

NEW JERSEY: Research is just getting under way, but there are "some waters in the northwestern part of the state that show some signs of acidification," says Dr. Dean Arnold of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to A.H. Johnson of the University of Pennsylvania, headwaters of streams in the Pine Barrens show signs of acidification from precipitation.

PENNSYLVANIA: "At present many of our mountain streams can no longer support rainbow trout, and some of our first- and second-order streams can't even support the more tolerant brown trout," says Fred Johnson, Water Resources Coordinator of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission. "There are also streams that we can't stock before the trout season begins because of the acidity of the snowmelt. The situation is very serious." A portion of Pennsylvania extending through the central and northern sections of the state routinely has the most acidic rainfall of any large area in the country. The average in the summer is pH 3.8.

WEST VIRGINIA: A dozen trout streams are too acid to support fish. Moreover, 150 miles of the state's total of 550 miles of native brook-trout streams are considered "threatened," says Don Gasper of the Department of Natural Resources. "The average pH of this 150 miles of streams is 5.5," he says. "In the springtime it dips down to 4.8 or 5 and then climbs up to 6 in September. If the stream pH were to decline a half a pH unit, there would be no more fish. West Virginia is a stream state, and we're talking about losing one-quarter of our heritage," concludes Gasper. "What's coming down is very, very bad. We're really very worried." In addition, stocked streams are also being affected. Gasper says that about 150 miles of these are too acid in the spring to be stocked.

KENTUCKY: In Cumberland State Park, located in the southern part of the state, acid deposition is leaching heavy metals into watersheds. Lake Nevin in the Bernheim Forest, which is close to the Kentucky-Indiana border, has detectable levels of lead.

NORTH CAROLINA-TENNESSEE: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which covers 509,000 acres in both states, is taking a battering. The beautiful blue haze that comes from lacquers and oils liberated from the forest canopy is rarely seen. Instead, visibility has been greatly reduced, obscured by an ugly gray haze composed of man-made particulates, mostly aluminum sulfates. After the Los Angeles basin, the western slope of the southern Appalachians, from Georgia north to Kentucky, has the highest frequency of air stagnation in the U.S.

The average pH of precipitation in the park has gone from 5.3 in 1955 to 4.4 in 1973 and 4.2 in 1980. In the spring, stream pH levels drop to as low as 4.3, and aluminum leaching is ongoing. In Beech Flats Creek zinc and aluminum have reached nearly toxic levels for fish, and rainbow trout in the park contained more than the permissible amount of mercury allowed for human consumption until the Food and Drug Administration raised the level from .5 parts per million to 1 in 1979. In lakes lying just outside the park boundary in North Carolina, smallmouth bass have abnormal backbones, generally associated with aluminum toxicity. Amphibians, particularly salamanders, are also threatened. The park contains the greatest diversity of salamanders in the world, including the Plethodontidae, the lungless salamanders that probably evolved in the region.

GEORGIA: Northeastern Georgia, extending from Raymond County to Pickens County, has low buffering capacity, according to state environmental officials. There have been reports of skeletal deformities in smallmouth bass in Lake Chatuga, a northern reservoir, and officials say there's some indication that these might be the effects of low pH.

FLORIDA: Acid precipitation threatens poorly buffered lakes in the sandy central highlands region that runs the length of the peninsula. According to Dr. P.L. Brezonik, water resources specialist formerly of the University of Florida and now at the University of Minnesota, the acidity of Florida rainfall has increased markedly in the last 25 years. The most acidic rains—with a pH of less than 4.7—fall on the northern two-thirds of the state.

MICHIGAN: Some 16,000 lakes of more than 10 acres each are considered susceptible to acid precipitation. More than half the 8,000 lakes and ponds in the Upper Peninsula have an alkalinity of only about 10 parts per million. The Keeweenaw Peninsula on Lake Superior receives one of the heaviest snowfalls in the U.S., averaging about 12 to 13 feet annually, and the median pH for snowfalls in the winter of 1977-78 was 4.5.

WISCONSIN: Twenty-six hundred lakes of more than 20 acres in size are considered very susceptible to acidification because they have a pH of 6 or less and little alkalinity.

MINNESOTA: The northern part of the state, particularly the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is susceptible to acidification. In fact, the "Transboundary Air Pollution Interim Report," prepared last February by a group of American and Canadian scientists, noted that "Atmosphere load near the BWCAW is at levels associated with the onset of lake acidification in Scandinavian countries."

COLORADO: Acid precipitation is falling on the Rockies northwest of Denver. Drs. William M. Lewis Jr. and Michael C. Grant, environmental biologists at the University of Colorado, accidentally discovered this in 1975 while they were working in the university's mountain research station, 9,000 feet up at Como Creek, adjacent to the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. In the four years from 1974 to '78 the pH of precipitation dropped at a rapid rate, from 5.4 to 5.0, to 4.8, to 4.7. Then, in August, Dr. John Harte of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory reported that small lakes and streams in the Elk Mountains near Crested Butte in western Colorado have very high levels of acid. Harte said that the pH of rain and snow in the area had sunk as low as 3.6 in some storms.

WYOMING: The average pH of precipitation falling at Yellowstone National Park was 5.2 in 1980.

MONTANA: The pH average for precipitation in Glacier National Park was 4.9.

IDAHO: The 1980-81 pH average at Craters of the Moon National Monument was 4.8. All these Rocky Mountain averages are for wet deposition only.

NEW MEXICO: Acid precipitation with a pH often in the 4s and occasionally in the 3s has been reported for the Teseque Watersheds in the Santa Fe National Forest.

ARIZONA: The 1980 pH average for Tombstone was 5.2.

WASHINGTON: Twenty-four of 68 lakes sampled in the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades by Drs. Eugene B. Welch and William H. Chamberlain, of the University of Washington, had a pH of less than 6. Seven lakes had a pH of less than 5.5; they all were located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, due east of Seattle. In a report submitted to the National Park Service, Welch and Chamberlain noted that 70% of the rainfall monitored in Seattle ranged in pH from 5.2 to 4.2.

CALIFORNIA: Dr. Doug Lawson, a researcher for the state Air Resources Board, says, "The state has levels of acid precipitation as high as or higher than any place in the country, and we do have areas that are very susceptible in the Sierra Nevada and around Los Angeles where there are exposed granitic surfaces." The pH of drizzle measured by Dr. James Morgan of Cal Tech in 1978 was 2.9. Recently, when scientists flew through smog over Los Angeles, they were unable to conduct tests because acids had corroded their instruments.

MAPThis map, compiled from studies of soil and rocks, shows (in red) areas of the U.S. and Canada that are especially sensitive to acid precipitation; the text pinpoints its known impact.