TROUBLED SKIES, TROUBLED WATERS: The Story of Acid Rain by Jon R. Luoma


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Far from being a recent phenomenon, pollution-caused acid rain was noted and described by British government industrial inspector Robert Angus Smith in 1872, Luoma (former director of public information for the Minnesota Pollution Control Board) reminds us in this factual and welt-reasoned but diffuse survey. In the 1950s a Canadian registered acid rain in the English Lake District, but his results were ignored. Swedish scientists have been studying the problem since the 1940s; in the 1960s, Svante eden showed that acid rain over Scandinavia was caused by industrial pollution from Europe; and in 1972 the Swedish government recorded widespread ecological damage caused by acid rain, and even warned the US and Canada that they faced a similar situation--a warning that was also ignored until recently. And, between frequent bouts of rhapsodizing about the beauties of unsullied nature, laconic conversations with persons who live or work by acidified lakes, and half-hearted attempts at describing scientists at work studying acid rain, Luoma does address the main Points: acid rain is generated when pollutant gases (chiefly sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) are converted into acid and transported via appropriate weather conditions; when such rain falls on susceptible terrain (hard, insoluble rock; lakes and streams with poor buffering capacity), the result is a devastating acidification that leaves lakes looking cleaner than ever but from which most life has vanished. Acid water also has the power to mobilize toxic metals, which then enter the food chain. Studies show that acid rain results from the burning of high-sulfur coal (particularly in the Ohio basin and southern Canada) and automobile exhausts; since 1979 the phenomenon has become increasingly widespread. Luoma also examines the tangle of regulations and devices (scrubbers, precipitators, etc.), often at odds, designed to control acid rain, including fairly recent (1982) developments, and estimates the costly economic consequences (damage to buildings, to tourism and fishing, and increasing health care costs) should we fail to take remedial action at once. The facts are mostly in order, although one or two bits of arrant nonsense have crept in. (Luoma thinks that water is ""a simple chemical that is known to exist in but one spot in the universe. . . Earth."") Would that he had simply let his subject be. Still, it's a vast improvement on Robert and Alexander Boyle's incoherent Acid Rain (p. 37).

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1983
Publisher: Viking