State view: Sooty vistas don't suit our national parks
Minnesotans rightfully can trumpet five examples of what Wallace Stegner, writer and conservationist, called "the best idea we ever had," referring to America's national parks. Our state has five national parks that attracted 554,400 visitors in ...
Minnesotans rightfully can trumpet five examples of what Wallace Stegner, writer and conservationist, called "the best idea we ever had," referring to America's national parks. Our state has five national parks that attracted 554,400 visitors in 2011 and generated $31 million in economic benefit from tourism.
Voyageurs National Park is one of the country's most outstanding national parks. It is a beautiful region of interconnected waterways and landscape formed by earthquakes, volcanoes and mountain building. The park's boreal forest is home to beavers, timber wolves, moose, black bears, foxes, otters, snowshoe hares and weasels. Trout, yellow perch and northern pike inhabit the park's waters. The U.S. National Park Service says, "Voyageurs is where the aurora borealis glows brightly and brilliantly, and constellations can be seen year round."
"Can be seen?" That could become history.
One air pollutant of great concern to many people is soot. Soot, officially known as fine-particle pollution, is a mixture of smoke, liquid droplets and solid metal particles released by power plants, factory smokestacks and gasoline and diesel vehicle exhausts. The fine particles can move through the air for long distances and are the main cause of haze in some parts of the country, including many national parks. Who wants to travel to a national park, hike up the mountain or paddle to a clearing to peer through a gauzy brown haze?
Soot is also a health threat. Soot particles are very small. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that particles 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller can enter the bloodstream and lungs and cause serious, adverse health effects. Inhalation of these microscopic particles have been linked to premature death and to respiratory illnesses, heart attacks, strokes, aggravated asthma among children, and other illnesses.
According to the American Lung Association, there are already 92,814 people in St. Louis County (almost half the county's total population) who suffer from pediatric asthma, adult asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or cardiovascular disease and who are at an even greater risk from air pollutants. It's time to clean up the air.
Soot can harm plants and animals, too. It can settle in the ground and in the water, which can make lakes and streams acidic, change the nutrient balance in large river basins, deplete nutrients in soil, damage sensitive forests and farm crops, and reduce biodiversity. Soot can even stunt forest growth.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to strengthen the soot standard and cut allowable soot pollution down from the current 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air. We need to tell the EPA we support the soot pollution standard recommended by the American Lung Association:
11 micrograms per cubic meter.
I don't want Minnesota's prized lakes, rivers, streams, forests and other natural areas to be shrouded in a brown haze.
Christine Goepfert is the Upper Midwest program manager in the Minnesota Field Office in St. Paul for the National Parks Conservation Association.