Pollution is not only a major problem in urban cities across the United States, but also in the country’s national parks, according to a new report from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
The study assessed air pollution’s impact on 417 national parks based on four categories: unhealthy air, harm to nature, hazy skies, and climate change. They ultimately found that 96%of all US national parks suffered from “significant air pollution problems in at least one of the four categories.”
According to the study, 85% of parks have unhealthy breathing air at times, while 90% are affected by haze pollution. It also found that air pollution deposits that seep into soil and water have harmed sensitive animals and habitats in 88% of national parks surveyed.
The NCPA revealed that climate change impacts every national park assessed in the study to some degree, but for 80% of parks, it is a grave concern. These 335 parks have consistently exhibited significant change in temperature, precipitation, and early onset of spring.
“The poor air quality in our national parks is both disturbing and unacceptable,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the parks association, told USA Today.
“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," Pierno said.
This air pollution doesn’t just affect the parks and the animals living within them but also the 330 million people that visit the sites each year, causing lung damage, increased inflammation, and compromised immune systems.
The air in Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Mojave National Preserve is heavily polluted by ozone — a toxic gas that is dangerous to human health — making the air hazardous to breath for more than two months in summer, when visitations is at its peak. The report states that there is an increased risk for children, elderly, those who exercise outdoors, and individuals suffering from respiratory illnesses.
“By protecting these places we are protecting each other, our communities and we are protecting the planet,” Stephanie Kodish, the Clean Air program director for the NPCA, told the Guardian.
According to the NPCA, mining and human dependence on fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal play an integral role in creating this pollution. Power plants and other industrial activity also produce dangerous levels of air pollution.
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The report says there is a clear path to fixing the issue — reducing pollution and using renewable resources (like the solar, water, and wind power) for clean energy. However, it also emphasizes the need for government-backed policies in order to successfully tackle pollution.
“I hope that people think about our national parks as bipartisan unifiers. That the connection to our national parks is one that can help preserve our future, our history, our culture,” Kodish told The Guardian.
“For the American people, they should serve as a reminder – and a warning cry.”
The report outlines several ways individual people can take action to help preserve US national parks and work towards clean air for all, such as writing to Congress and asking lawmakers to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is serving its purpose. The report encourages people to get involved with the NPCA, write an op-ed or letter to the editor of a publication calling on the EPA to take action, or give a testimony at a public hearing on a state or federal rule.
In their everyday lives, people can help reduce air pollution by utilizing solar energy in their homes and opting to use transportation methods other than driving.