Restore a Damaged Environment

Acid deposition penetrates deeply into the fabric of an ecosystem, changing the chemistry of the soil and streams and narrowing—sometimes to nothing—the space where certain plants and animals can survive. Because there are so many changes, it takes many years for ecosystems to recover from acid deposition, even after emissions are reduced and the rain pH is restored to normal. For example, while visibility might improve within days, and small or episodic chemical changes in streams improve within months, chronically acidified lakes, streams, forests, and soils can take years to decades, or even centuries (in the case of soils) to heal.

However, there are some things that people can do to bring back lakes and streams more quickly. Limestone or lime (a naturally occurring basic compound) can be added to acidic lakes to “cancel out” the acidity. This process, called liming, has been used extensively in Norway and Sweden but is not used very often in the United States Liming tends to be expensive, has to be done repeatedly to keep the water from returning to its acidic condition, and is considered a short-term remedy in only specific areas, rather than an effort to reduce or prevent pollution. Furthermore, it does not solve the broader problems of changes in soil chemistry and forest health in the watershed, and it does nothing to address visibility reductions, materials damage, and risk to human health. However, liming does often permit fish to remain in a lake, allowing the native population to survive in place until emissions reductions reduce the amount of acid deposition in the area.