Quantcast

Nearly All National Parks Are Suffering From Air Pollution

Popular
A few days every year, air pollution at Big Bend National Park causes some of the worst air quality in terms of visible impairment at any park. daveynin / CC BY-2.0

Ninety-six percent of America's national parks have significant air pollution issues ranging from unhealthy breathing conditions to contaminated soils and waterways, according to a new report released by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).


"When people think of iconic parks like Joshua Tree or the Grand Canyon, they think of unspoiled landscapes and scenic views. I think they would be shocked to know that these are actually some of our most polluted national parks," said NPCA President and CEO Theresa Pierno.

Data compiled by the National Park Service was analyzed in order to evaluate more than 400 parks in four categories: harm imposed on nature, hazy skies, unhealthy air and climate change. Each park was ranked based as significant, moderate or little to no concern. Researchers found that 85 percent of parks have air that is unhealthy to breathe while almost 90 percent of parks suffer from either haze pollution or soil and water pollution that negatively impacts sensitive species and habitats. Moreover, climate change was dubbed a significant concern for 80 percent of national parks, though all will be affected to some degree in the coming years.

Unhealthy air that may pose negative effects on health was observed at 354 parks, 87 of which exhibited ozone levels of significant concern. Similarly, a 2018 study found that many national parks had similar ozone values to 20 of the largest major cities in the U.S. between 1990 and 2014. For example, Northern California's Sequoia National Park compared to Los Angeles for days when the air was considered "unhealthy for sensitive groups" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Air pollution is also posing a health risk to some of the 330 million people who visit our parks each year, as well as the communities who surround them," Pierno said. "The challenges facing our parks are undeniable, but so is our resolve to help clear their air and ensure they are protected as they were meant to be, by both their founders and by the laws in place to protect them."

Hazy skies documented at 370 parks of moderate or significant concern cause the average national park visitor to miss out on an estimated 50 miles of scenery. This has been seen at parks around the country, such as Big Bend National Park in Texas. A few days every year, air pollution here causes some of the worst air quality in terms of visible impairment at any park, reducing the visibility to less than 30 miles 6 percent of the time, according to the National Park Service.

Most air pollution does not originate in parks but is capable of traveling hundreds of miles through the wind, bringing with it deposits of nitrogen and sulfur compounds to even the most remote ones, particularly in the face of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Harm to sensitive species and habitat was observed in 368 parks seeing artificially enriched soils and acidifying water systems. Ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains, Cascades and Sierra Nevada are particularly sensitive to increased nitrogen to the point that the NPS has developed a monitoring program dedicated to such measures.

Climate change is considered a significant concern because of increases in temperature, precipitation and early onset spring. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Glacier National Park in Montana is experiencing some of the biggest impacts as many of its namesake glaciers are melting or have already disappeared because of such extremes.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

We need our government to do everything it can to stop PFAS contamination and exposure from wreaking havoc in communities across the country. LuAnn Hun / Unsplash

By Genna Reed

The EPA announced last week that it is issuing a preliminary regulatory determination for public comment to set an enforceable drinking water standard to two of the most common and well-studied PFAS, PFOA and PFOS.

This decision is based on three criteria:

  1. PFOA and PFOS have an adverse effect on public health
  2. PFOA and PFOS occur in drinking water often enough and at levels of public health concern;
  3. regulation of PFOA and PFOS is a meaningful opportunity for reducing the health risk to those served by public water systems.
Read More
Charging EVs in Stockholm: But where does a dead battery go? Ranjithsiji / Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Driving an electric-powered vehicle (EV) rather than one reliant on fossil fuels is a key way to tackle climate change and improve air quality — but it does leave the old batteries behind as a nasty residue.

Read More
Sponsored
U.S. Secretary of the Treasure Steven Mnuchin arrives for a welcome dinner at the Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Feb. 22, 2020 during the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting. FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP via Getty Images

Finance ministers from the 20 largest economies agreed to add a scant mention of the climate crisis in its final communiqué in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Sunday, but they stopped short of calling it a major economic risk, as Reuters reported. It was the first time the G20 has mentioned the climate crisis in its final communiqué since Donald Trump became president in 2017.

Read More
Aerial view of Parque da Cachoeira, which suffered the January 2019 dam collapse, in Brumadinho, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil — one of the country's worst industrial accidents that left 270 people dead. Millions of tons of toxic mining waste engulfed houses, farms and waterways, devastating the mineral-rich region. DOUGLAS MAGNO / AFP / Getty Images

By Christopher Sergeant, Julian D. Olden

Scars from large mining operations are permanently etched across the landscapes of the world. The environmental damage and human health hazards that these activities create may be both severe and irreversible.

Read More
Participants of the climate demonstration Fridays for Future walk through Hamburg, Germany on Feb. 21, 2020. Axel Heimken / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

U.S.-based youth climate activists on Friday drew attention to the climate protest in Hamburg, Germany, where organizers said roughly 60,000 people took part, and hoped that Americans took inspiration from their European counterparts.

Read More