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Acid Rain Study Beneficial, EPA Official Says

September 18, 1985

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) _ Although there is a ″risk of irreversible damage″ to the nation’s lakes, an Environmental Protection Agency official said Tuesday it was better to study acid rain than start a crash cleanup program of sulfur dioxide emissions.

John Welles, director of EPA’s Region 8 in Denver, said it was a judgment call on the part of the Reagan administration whether to take costly steps that might not prevent acid rain, or to study the issue thoroughly and determine which steps will work.

″It would cost billions of dollars to make much of a difference in reducing sulfur dioxide″ emissions, Welles said during a briefing on the lake survey program. ″What we’re doing is finding out what steps to take.″

The federal government this month began the first comprehensive study of acid rain in the West, a study mandated by Congress but one that probably won’t settle the question of whether acid rain has damaged western lakes.

About 2,000 lakes in the East and upper Midwest were surveyed last year.

″We’re in an area where very little is known, so we need to be careful of claims by people who say they know what’s happening,″ Welles said. ″I hope we’ll begin to get some answers three to five years from now.″

The lake survey program will provide data on the acidity and sensitivity of 888 lakes in the West. Welles said 35 percent of the lakes are in wilderness areas.

Because the Forest Service wouldn’t allow the EPA to fly helicopters into wilderness lakes, foresters are going after the samples on foot, with pack- horses in tow.

Each sample in the $5.2 million study likely is worth $5,000 to $7,000, figuring the cost of obtaining and analyzing it, officials said.

″We know of lakes that are potentially sensitive, so we are taking a snapshot in time,″ Welles said. ″But we won’t know from this survey whether lakes are increasing or decreasing in acidity.″

In Europe, he said, West German scientists have found that the percentage of forests in Bavaria damaged by acid rain increased from 8 percent in 1982 to 34 percent in 1983 and 54 percent in 1984.

″This is alarming,″ he said. ″So this issue is of growing concern not only in Europe but here as well.″

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