The National Wildlife Federation, in an effort to build congressional support for stringent new air pollution regulations, today released a poll showing that two of every three North Carolina residents have heard about acid rain and that two-thirds of them consider it a serious environmental hazard.

Acid rain, formed when airborne pollutants combine with water vapors in the atmosphere, is a high-visibility political issue in the northeastern United States, where it has been blamed for millions of dollars of damage to aquatic life and building materials.

The federation says its new poll also indicates a growing sensitivity outside the Northeast.

"If North Carolina, a conservative southeastern state for which acid rain is not a front-burner issue, displays this degree of awareness and concern about the acid rain problem, one would expect public concern to be even greater in other, more severely afflicted areas of the country," the group said in a report on the poll. The survey, conducted as part of the University of North Carolina's semiannual Carolina Poll, was released to coincide with opening today of Congress' lame-duck session, in which Clean Air Act amendments to control acid rain may be considered.

"I expect the poll will help members of Congress understand how strongly Americans feel about the need to control this destructive form of air pollution," federation official Jay D. Hair said.

In a statement on the poll results, the group pointedly noted that the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Clean Air Act, is Rep. James T. Broyhill of North Carolina.

The federation poll is the second recent attempt by environmental groups to broaden the debate about acid rain. In a study released earlier this month, the Izaak Walton League of America reported that far more of the nation's lakes and streams may be vulnerable to the effects of acid rain than had been thought.

The Carolina Poll surveyed 584 residents between Oct. 1 and Oct. 6. Five questions about acid rain were asked, along with 40 other questions about various social and political issues. The poll found that 60.2 percent of those surveyed had heard of acid rain and that 68.6 percent of those rated it as a "serious" or "very serious" problem.

Sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants are believed to be a major contributor to acid rain. Of Carolinians who rated acid rain as a serious problem, nearly 90 percent said power plant emissions should be subject to tighter controls, and more than 83 percent of those said they would be willing to pay higher utility bills to support such controls.