The Debate Over Acid Precipitation:

Opposing Views and Status of Research

EMD-81-131: Published: Sep 11, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 1981.

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GAO undertook an analysis of the acid rain phenomenon by examining the current state of knowledge on the subject; the type of information that can be expected from the scientific work in progress; and the likely consequences for energy development, the environment, and economic development should regulatory action be taken now instead of waiting until more information is available.

Acid precipitation may be one of the most polarized yet least understood energy/environmental issues of the 1980's. Its implications for environmental quality and national energy policy may be profound and could have international implications. It is contended that acid precipitation is causing a wide range of damage to the environment and may indirectly damage human health. Many environmental interests have called for immediate adoption of more stringent emission controls, especially for coal-fired powerplants. Coal interests, utility industries, and some researchers have claimed that there is little scientific basis to substantiate these causes and effects. Broad agreement exists that certain areas in and around lakes are particularly vulnerable to acidification and that some lakes and streams in these areas are becoming increasingly acidic. However, present levels of aquatic damage are widely disputed. Damage to forests, crops, and soils is far less documented. Most acknowledge that acid precipitation can damage man-made materials such as buildings, statuary, metals, and surface finishes. There is no firm evidence that acid precipitation has affected human health by causing contamination of drinking water and edible fish. Participants in the debate disagree on whether the acidity of precipitation has been increasing, the sources of the pollution, and the efficacy of the research models.

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