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Acid Rain: Dying lakes, dying crops

When fish started turning belly up in lakes and streams, North America's eyes were suddenly opened to the consequences of pollution. But long after acid rain became a household word and Canada decided to take action, the United States was still hesitant to curb its share of industrial pollutants. For years Prime Minister Brian Mulroney courted a reluctant American president while Canadian activists lobbied and spread the word. Results came eventually, but it may have been too little too late.

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Today the first comprehensive report on acid rain confirms the damaging effects that scientists and environmentalists have long suspected, as reported by CBC Television.
Just a year ago, politicians refused to acknowledge the problem even existed. With the release of this report, the problem becomes a central issue. Acid rain is killing fish, vegetation and forests across North America, and scientists believe the effects will be catastrophic if left untreated.
. At the time of this report, acid rain was thought to be caused only by airborne sulphur from smokestacks. The mix of sulphur and rainwater forms sulphuric acid - a poison that makes ecosystems too acidic to support life.
. More contributing causes of acid rain – from automobiles and other industries – were soon found.

. Acid rain in Canada was first discovered in Killarney, Ont., in Lumsden Lake. Two scientists doing experiments with fish populations noticed the fish dying before their very eyes - for no apparent reason. Conferring with locals uncovered a trend: fish were slowly disappearing from lakes all over the Georgian Bay region. The region is close to Inco, the nickel smelting company that was found to be one of North America's worst contributors to acid rain.

. Increased levels of acidity were discovered years before any link was made to the health of lake life. Canada's lakes began deteriorating around 1950. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Scandinavians found the same phenomenon occurring in their lakes. Similarly, Americans were finding lakes dying in the Adirondacks region of New York.

. Starting at about the time of this news report, acid rain became a staple news item and remained in the headlines for the next 10 years.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 15, 1979
Guest(s): Warren Godson
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: David Bert
Duration: 1:53

Last updated: February 6, 2012

Page consulted on November 7, 2014

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