Bad Air Killing Eastern US

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 7:28 PM EDT

800px-Gavin_Plant.JPG Thinks it's just China? Well, every major ecosystem type in the eastern US is being degraded by air pollution. That's right: Adirondack forests, Shenandoah streams, Appalachian wetlands, and the Chesapeake Bay, to name a few.

A new report [pdf] is the first to analyze the combined effects of four air pollutants across a broad range of habitat types.

Most studies focus on one pollutant. And why not? Things always look so much better that way.

But the sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and ground-level ozone that are released into the air from smokestacks, tailpipes, and agricultural operations fall back to Earth sooner or later. Ooops.

And because the eastern U.S. is downwind from gynormous pollution sources, it receives the highest levels of deposited air pollution anywhere in North America.

That's bad news for wildlife, forests, soil, water, and, guess what?, economies.

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The report by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and The Nature Conservancy suggests we revise air pollution regulations. US regs currently target only airborne emissions and their effect on human health. But we need to measure how and where the nasty stuff lands and regulate that too.

All the fish that are no longer inhabiting the fishless lakes of the Adirondacks might suggest that American waters look every bit as bad as China's skies.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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