Almost Every National Park In America Has ‘Dangerously Hazardous’ Air Quality

The beauty of Yellowstone National Park.
Brigitte Werner / Pixabay

The great outdoors may not be so great after all! A new report released earlier this week from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) claimed that around 96 percent of national parks in the United States have “significant” air quality problems, per The Guardian.

Stephanie Kodish, director of the Clean Air program at the NPCA, argued that actions needed to be taken to protect the parks.

“We are not doing right by the places that we most cherish. By protecting these places we are protecting each other, our communities and we are protecting the planet.”

Polluted air causes severe damage to the lungs, in addition to other issues such as creating deficiencies in the immune system and increasing inflammation. The report concluded that the national parks have air that is unsafe to breathe 85 percent of the time.

A separate study concluded last year found similar findings and reported that “air pollution in parks has rivaled that of the 20 largest major metropolitan cities, including Los Angeles and Houston,” per Science Advances.

The lead researcher of that study, Dr. David Keiser, is an environmental economist at Iowa State University. He has warned that tourists’ health could be harmed by visiting the national parks.

“There were still tens or hundreds of millions of visitor days since the beginning of our study in 1990. This is a tremendous amount of exposure to the U.S. population and one of the things I don’t think too many people think about.”

Parks that had pollution as bad as Los Angeles included the popular destinations of Yosemite and Joshua Tree.

Tourists at Yosemite
Tourists at Yosemite National Park. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The poor air quality does not just affect human tourists; the report also claims that 88 percent of vulnerable species in the parks are negatively affected.

Moreover, if the health risks to tourists and wildlife are not bad enough, the poor air quality also has severe ecological consequences. The NPCA believes that air pollution is “worsening the effects of climate change” by making wildfires and droughts more likely, as well as changing the composition of the soil.

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Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park. Brigitte Werner / Pixabay

Many environmentalists are worried about new regulations under the Trump administration, which are more sympathetic to fracking. However, Kodish believes that the knowledge that America’s national parks are under threat will be a unifying wake-up call for people.

“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.”

There is a reason to be optimistic. Thanks to the Regional Haze Rule, states are required to submit plans to fight pollution by 2021 and return parks to pre-pollution levels by 2064.