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Science & Space

Smokies top list of most polluted parks

By Camille Feanny

The difference between clear and hazy days in National Parks can be dramatic.
The difference between clear and hazy days in National Parks can be dramatic.
Environmental Issues
National Park Service
North Carolina

(CNN) -- Several of the nation's national parks are choking on bad air, according to a report released Thursday by a coalition of conservation groups.

The report from the National Parks Conservation Association, Appalachian Voices and Our Children's Earth ranks the nation's most polluted parks and analyzes air quality trends over the past decade.

This year the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina has the dubious distinction of being the most polluted, with unhealthy ozone that exceeds the levels found in urban cities such as Washington and New York.

"Unless we do something to strengthen the Clean Air Act -- which won't include the President's Clear Skies Plan -- not only will we see ozone get worse, but (so will) the acidification of streams and soils and the cascade of ecological effects," said Harvard Ayers, chairman of Appalachian Voices, an environmental organization for Appalachian communities.

From the period 1999-2003 the park recorded about 150 unhealthy air days, the equivalent of about one month per year, the report says. On those days during the peak summer tourist season, guests were cautioned to avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoor air.

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Acadia National Park in Maine, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks in California round out the list.

"America's national parks represent our nation's heritage, and a veil of haze and smog hangs over these special places," said Thomas C. Kiernan, National Parks Conservation Association president.

The report contends that almost all the pollution comes from outside sources, such as vehicle exhaust, and emissions from nearby factories and power plants. It also says air quality in the national parks has improved little since clean air laws were strengthened by Congress in 1990.

It is estimated that about 280 million people visit America's national parks annually, and studies conducted by the National Park Service show that unhealthy air affects the length of time that visitors spend in those parks. If the problem is not cleared up, losses to surrounding communities could reach billions of dollars, the report said.

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