Press Release May 7, 2019

Parks Group’s Report Finds 96 Percent of National Parks are Plagued by Air Pollution

Polluted Parks report documents the distressing effects of air pollution on national parks

Washington, D.C. – Of the 417 national parks evaluated, 96 percent of America’s national parks are plagued by significant air pollution problems. This and other alarming facts were included in Polluted Parks: How America is failing to protect our national parks, people and planet from air pollution, a report released today by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). The report, which documents the distressing effects of air pollution on national parks, also finds:

  • Eighty-five percent of national parks have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times;
  • Eighty-nine percent of parks suffer from haze pollution;
  • Soils and waters in 88 percent of parks are affected by air pollution which in turn impacts sensitive species and habitat;
  • And climate change is a significant concern for 80 percent of national parks, though all parks are affected to some level.

“The poor air quality in our national parks is both disturbing and unacceptable. 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,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for 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. 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. 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.”

NPCA analyzed a variety of data sources, relying heavily on National Park Service information, to evaluate the damage to 417 national park sites from air pollution based on four different categories: harm to nature, hazy skies, unhealthy air and climate change. For each category, park air and climate pollution impacts were coded as significant, moderate, or little to no concern.

  • Effects of climate change: Climate change is a significant concern for 80 percent of our national parks (335 parks). These parks are experiencing changes in climate through extreme trends in temperature, precipitation, or early onset of spring.
  • Hazy Skies: At 89 percent of parks (370 parks), visibility impairment is either a moderate or significant concern (304 and 66 parks respectively). Air pollution obscures scenic park views — on average, visitors to national parks are missing out on 50 miles of scenery, the equivalent to the length of Rhode Island.
  • Unhealthy Air: Eighty-five percent of national parks (354 parks) have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times. At 87 parks, ozone levels are a significant concern, and another 267 parks have a moderate level of concern.
  • Harm to Nature: Our findings show that air pollution is harming sensitive species and habitat at 88 percent of national parks (368 parks). At 283 parks, the problem is of a significant concern and in 85 parks, the concern level is moderate.

While most air pollution doesn’t originate in national parks, it can travel hundreds of miles from its source, thereby affecting all parks — even remote ones — and distant communities. Much of this pollution begins with extracting fossil fuels, including oil, gas and coal, and burning them in power plants and vehicles.

Although the Clean Air Act has steadily reduced pollution over the past five decades, in just two years the Trump administration’s policies have contributed to reversing this trend. Today, air pollution is on the rise, enforcement actions against polluters have plummeted by 85 percent, and now scientists project that we will be facing a climate crisis much sooner than previously thought.

“At a time when the climate crisis facing the planet is irrefutable, the laws that protect our climate and the air we breathe are being challenged like never before as this administration continues to prioritize polluters’ interests over the health of our people and parks,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for NPCA. “America’s national parks are some of the most beloved places on earth and provide once in a lifetime experiences, but the iconic wildlife and irreplaceable natural and cultural resources that make these places so special are being seriously threatened by climate change and other effects of air pollution. For one hundred years, NPCA has been working to protect our national parks, and as we celebrate our centennial year, we remain just as steadfast in our commitment to defend them for one hundred years more.”

Of the 417 national parks evaluated, 97 parks are ranked at a significant level of concern in three or more of the categories evaluated, including:

  • Shenandoah National Park
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  • Dinosaur National Monument
  • Gateway National Recreation Area
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
  • Natchez Trace Parkway
  • Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
  • Big Thicket National Preserve
  • Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

The Polluted Parks report also features the stories of a community activist, young conservationist, organizer, historic landscape and outdoor recreation leader with firsthand experiences dealing with the effects of air and climate pollution across the country. These human connections reveal a common theme: the problems of pollution afflict both people and our parks in similar ways.

Fortunately, there are clear and feasible solutions: reducing air pollution and making a just transition to clean energy. NPCA continues to work to defend critical clean air and climate laws, hold polluters and our government accountable and advocate for pollution reductions by empowering people and communities.

To view the full Polluted Parks report, visit: www.npca.org/pollutedparks.

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About National Parks Conservation Association: For 100 years, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org/100.