If you are living in the eastern United States, the environment around you is being harmed by air pollution. From Adirondack forests and Shenandoah streams to Appalachian wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay, a new report by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and The Nature Conservancy has found that air pollution is degrading every major ecosystem type in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States.
The report, Threats From Above: Air Pollution Impacts on Ecosystems and Biological Diversity in the Eastern United States, is the first to analyze the large-scale effects that four air pollutants are having across a broad range of habitat types (see inset). The majority of recent studies focus on one individual pollutant. Over 32 experts contributed to the effort; the prognosis is not good.
"Everywhere we looked, we found evidence of air pollution harming natural resources," comments Dr. Gary M. Lovett, an ecologist at the Cary Institute and the lead author of the report. "Decisive action is needed if we plan on preserving functioning ecosystems for future generations."
Pollutants poison areas far from their point of origin
The pollutants assessed sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and ground-level ozone largely originate from smokestacks, tailpipes, and agricultural operations. While initially airborne, these pollutants eventually return to the landscape, where they contaminate the soil and water.
Airborne emissions can travel long distances before making their way back to the ground. Because the eastern United States is downwind from large industrial and urban pollution sources, it receives the highest levels of deposited air pollution in North America. This is bad news for vulnerable wildlife, forest productivity, soil health, water resources, and ultimately, economies.
Co-author Dr. Timothy H. Tear, of The Nature Conservancy, comments, "Deposited pollutants have tangible human impacts. Mercu
|Contact: Lori Quillen|
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies