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California National Parks Experience Some Of The Worst Air Pollution In The United States

Wildfire smoke is the main source of particulate matter at Yosemite National Park

Four of the national parks most impacted by air pollution are in California.

Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree and Yosemite lead the pack, but 96 percent of the country’s national parks experience significant air pollution, according to a new “Polluted Parks” study by the National Parks Conservation Association.

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

“We’re not doing right by these places that we cherish the most,” Pierno said.

Ulla Reeves, who is the Clean Air Campaign manager with NPCA, says “were not doing right by these places we cherish the most.”

“When we protect them we protect each other, we protect our families and our communities,” Reeves said.

The authors blame the poor air quality on car emissions, the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change, such as wildfires.

“It’s pretty clear, the number of wildfires we’re seeing is connected to climate change,” Amy Roberts with the Outdoor Industry Association said in the report. “Lower snowpack in the winters impacts the amount of water in rivers in the summers. We’re in drought condition in summer a lot earlier.”

The researchers found places like Sequoia and Joshua Tree are some of the most polluted during summer when parks are the busiest. The authors suggest all this pollution is increasing the cases of visitors who experience allergy and asthma issues.

“Unfortunately, when you are seeing it, you are breathing it,” Reeves said. “When you should be able to see a mountain range, say, 50 or 100 miles in the distance, that becomes essentially blurred out.”

Two of the worst parks in the country for haziness are Sequoia and Kings Canyon, with over 90 miles of altered views. Much of that pollution comes from California’s Central Valley. It’s a similar story in Yosemite National Park.

Air pollution is having adverse effects on plants, and some research suggests it could even impact tree mortality. Pollution builds in soil and water and “sensitive plants and animals can be harmed,” Reeves said. “Our study found that 88 percent of our national parks are dealing with harm to nature in a significant way.”

The group outlines solutions to fight pollution and lays out 10 actions people can take, including writing to Congress and testifying at public hearings when appropriate.

“The poor air quality in our national parks is both disturbing and unacceptable,” Pierno said. “Nearly every single one of our more than 400 national parks is plagued by air pollution. If we don’t take immediate action to combat this, the results will be devastating and irreversible.”

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio