The longstanding acid rain problem in the lakes of the Adirondack State Park - including the local area - seems to slowly be getting better.
Public and private agency officials say better pollutant standards in recent years have improved the situation and that includes the lakes in Fulton and Hamilton counties.
"We are seeing some recovery in the park as far as the lake chemistry and the soil chemistry," Albany-based Adirondack Council Director of Communications John F. Sheehan said.
A section of East Caroga Lake is shown on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Acid rain for nearly a century has involved chemical pollutants carried on prevailing winds that can drift for hundreds of miles before being deposited by precipitation, according to the council website - www.adirondackcouncil.org. The Adirondack, Catskill and Appalachian mountain regions are the hardest hit because prevailing winds carry the pollution from several other states onto those mountain ranges.
Pollutants in acid rain -including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen -can damage trees and kill fish.
New York state has been somewhat proactive in the acid rain battles, Sheehan said.
To address the concern, the state responded with its own State Acid Deposition Control Act in 1984, recognizing about 80 percent of the sulfur deposited in the Adirondacks originates outside of New York state, requiring regional and national solutions to mitigate the problem.
Sheehan said federal Clear Air Act Amendments of 1990, and regulations put into place by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 are starting to alleviate some of the acid rain situation for the Adirondacks. In 1990, Congress amended the 1970 Clear Air Act and instructed the EPA to create the nation's first acid rain control program.
The Adirondack Council said the Adirondack State Park is the hardest-hit area of the nation in terms of acid rain. The environmental group said hundreds of lakes and ponds became too acidic from air pollution to support their native life. Acid rain also caused toxic metals such as aluminum and mercury to kill some fish and contaminate others, the council said. The council said mercury contamination has spread to every lake in the park.
Sheehan said Congress in 2000 cut the amount of sulfur dioxide from the nation's power plants by 50 percent, which has helped. He said reducing the sulfur in the Adirondacks "took well after 2000 to happen," but the situation is improving.
The council says the EPA in July 2010 also announced its new "Transport Rule" to help reduce the pollutants that cause acid rain. The rule reduces emissions in 31 eastern states and the District of Columbia. There are two phases set up for sulfur dioxide reductions, the first beginning this year and the second in 2014. For nitrogen oxide reductions, cuts would all take place this year. EPA estimates the rule, along with other actions, will reduce levels of sulfur dioxide by 6.3 million tons from 2005 levels and nitrogen levels by 1.4 million tons.
Charles "Bud" Lawlor, president of the non-profit East Caroga Lake Protective Association, said the acid rain situation on the area lakes is "a little better" than it used to be. But the 11-year resident, originally from Albany, said he can see eight to 10 trees just outside his residence in Caroga that are current victims of acid rain.
"All of us are affected," he said. "The tops of the trees are all dead. That's from acid rain."
Lawlor said there's not much his association can do, as all the legislation impacting acid rain's future effects are set on the state and federal levels. But he said it's not just the trees and lakes that are effected. Birds can be chemically-contaminated after eating flies.
Caroga Supervisor Ralph Ottuso, a resident of that area since 1987, said he's personally seen no evidence of acid rain harming the fish population in his town's many lakes.
"Usually, from what I've heard, if there's acid rain, it kills [the fish population]," Ottuso said.
The Adirondack Council says new fish species that can survive in acidic waters are accumulating mercury in their body tissue. Now, mammals and birds that live on those fish are showing signs of mercury contamination. The council claims more than 500 lakes and ponds - out of 2,800 - in the Adirondack State Park are already too acidic to support the plants and aquatic wildlife that once existed in them.
A pH scale is used to measure acidity, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. A value of 7 is neutral. Solutions with a pH of less than 7 are acids, while those with a pH greater than 7 are bases.
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation website - www.dec.ny.gov - the average pH of rainfall in New York State ranges from 4.0 to 4.5, which is up to 30 times more acidic than "normal."
DEC Press Officer Lori Severino noted her agency gave a presentation about acid rain in the Adirondacks to a U.S. Geological Survey/DEC Water Summit last year. The presentation included results from an Acid Lakes Monitoring Program.
Severino said the monitoring program illustrated a "trend in water quality improvements for acidified surface waters following implementation of the 1990 Federal Clean Air Act Amendments to reduce sulfur and nitrogen emissions."
More recent information for specific lakes in Fulton County and southern Hamilton County was not available.
The DEC website states there is a "good news-bad news story to report" regarding acid rain impacts on Adirondack lakes.
"The good news is that emissions of sulfur dioxide have been reduced, and as a result acidic deposition of sulfate has decreased approximately 25 percent," the website says. "This has led to lower levels of sulfate in Adirondack lakes and streams. The bad news is that we have not observed the large scale improvements in the acidity of Adirondack waters that we had anticipated."
DEC said part of the reason for the slow progress is there have been decreases in calcium, magnesium and other basic compounds in rain water which help to neutralize the sulfate. The decreases occurred because of the greatly reduced particulate portion of air pollution, the website said.