EarthTalk: I was appalled by the pollution
haze I saw on a recent visit to Acadia National Park in
Maine, and was told by a ranger that it was from smokestacks
and tailpipes hundreds of miles away. Is anything being
done to clear the air in Acadia and other natural areas
where people go to breathe fresh air and enjoy distant unobstructed
—Betty Estason, via e-mail
haze in some of our national parks, which emanates
from urban and industrial centers sometimes hundreds
of miles away, has been a problem for decades despite
a 1977 Congressional order calling for these areas
to be free of the unhealthy air plaguing cities.
Pictured: haze pollution in Acadia National Park,
pollution haze, which emanates from urban and industrial
centers to the south and west, has been a problem at Acadia
National Park and elsewhere (e.g. Great Smoky Mountains,
Shenandoah and Voyageurs national parks) for decades despite
a 1977 Congressional dictum calling for the nation’s
greatest natural treasures—known as “Class 1”
areas—to be free of the unhealthy air plaguing cities.
The haze is caused when tiny pollution particles absorb
and/or scatter sunlight before it reaches the ground, reducing
the clarity of what we see. According to the National Park
Service (NPS), which is working with other agencies and
state governments to help remedy the situation, “Some
types of particles, such as sulfates, scatter more light
than others, particularly during humid conditions,”
reports the NPS.
course, the pollution in the air causing the haze is also
not good for our health or the environment. “Exposure
to very small particles in the air has been linked with
increased respiratory illness, decreased lung function,
and even premature death,” reports the NPS. Also,
the most common particles, nitrates and sulfates, contribute
to acid rain, which renders some water bodies unsuitable
to support aquatic life.
with the Mid-Atlantic/North East Visibility Union (MANE-VU),
a regional planning agency with representation from all
Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states as well as two tribes
and four federal agencies, calculated that 100 miles in
visibility should be the norm throughout these regions but
that 40-60 mile visibility is typical today because of pollution.
They also warn that haze can reduce visibility to just a
few miles at times. The fact that these problems exist in
natural areas hundreds of miles from the sources of pollution
is particularly troubling to environmentalists, park visitors
and seekers of fresh air.
November 2011 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
agreed to finalize requirements for states to create haze
pollution clean-up plans—those first called for in
1977. These plans will require the worst polluters to install
“Best Available Retrofit Technology” (BART)
to clean up particulate pollution.
a recently proposed addendum would allow 28 eastern U.S.
states to avoid direct compliance, since they are already
required to cut emissions through the Cross State Air Pollution
Rule (CSAPR). “While the emission trading program
created by CSAPR will result in significant air quality
benefits for many eastern states, it will not require some
of the most egregious polluters of iconic Class I national
landscapes to clean up their pollution to the same level
that would be required under BART,” reports the National
Parks Conservation Association, which would like to see
EPA drop its proposed BART rule exemption.
can do their part by using less energy and making sure some
of the power offered by their utilities comes from renewable
sources. And stay away from haze-prone locales on humid
days when conditions are ripest for the formation of particulate
pollution and the negative health effects that can come
Parks Conservation Association.
EarthTalk: I couldn’t believe my ears:
“genetically engineered mosquitoes?” Why on
Earth would they be created? And I understand there are
plans to release them into the wild?
—Marissa Abingdon, Sumter, SC
to Greenpeace, many whale species are down to around
one percent of their estimated former abundance
before the days of commercial whaling. Pictured:
Minke whale on a stick, at the Sea Baron restaurant
in Reykjavik Harbour area, Iceland.
true, genetically engineered mosquitoes, which were bred
in the lab to transmit a gene during the reproductive process
that kills their offspring, have already been used on an
experimental basis in three countries—the Cayman Islands,
Malaysia and Brazil—to counteract the quickly spreading
mosquito-borne viral infection dengue fever. The World Health
Organization (WHO) estimates that as many as 100 million
cases of humans infected with dengue fever—which causes
a severe flu-like illness and can in certain instances be
fatal—occur annually in more than 100 tropical and
The British company
behind the project, Oxitec, is focusing initially on dengue
fever, given that the particular virus which causes it is
only carried by one sub-species of mosquito. This makes
the illness easier to target than malaria, for instance,
which is carried by many different types of mosquitoes.
released some of the genetically modified mosquitoes in
the Cayman Island in the Caribbean in 2009, much to the
surprise of the international community and environmental
advocates, many of whom are opposed to genetic engineering
in any of its forms due to the unknown and unintended side
effects that unleashing transgenic organisms into the world
In Brazil, where
the largest experiments have been carried out to date, the
government is backing a new facility designed to breed millions
of genetically engineered mosquitoes to help keep dengue
fever at bay.
isn’t considered to be a big problem in the U.S. as
yet. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reports that most of the dengue fever cases showing up in
the continental U.S. are among those who have travelled
to sub-tropical and tropical areas of the world. Still,
WHO reports that the incidence of dengue fever in the U.S.
has increased some thirty-fold over the last half century.
A proposal by
Oxitec to test its transgenic mosquitoes in the Florida
Keys has some locals upset. In April 2012, the town of Key
West passed an ordinance prohibiting the release of the
mosquitoes pending further testing on possible implications
for the environment. In the meantime, Oxitec has applied
to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a patent
on their mosquito and permission to release them in the
Some 80,000 people
have signed onto a campaign on the Change.org website calling
on the FDA to deny Oxitec’s application. Mila de Mier,
the Key West mother who launched the campaign, is concerned
about the potential consequences of releasing an experimental
organism on a delicate ecosystem.
business goal is to sell genetically modified mosquitoes
in the United States,” said de Mier. “…we’ve
already said we don’t want these mosquitoes in our
backyards, but Oxitec isn’t listening.” More
definitive scientific study is needed, she says, that looks
at the potential long-term impacts.