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Smokey Mountain National Park Environmental Problems

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Air Pollution Threatens Smokey Mountain National Park

Near the southern end of the Appalachian mountains on the eastern end of the United States lies one of the most beautiful treasures mother earth has to offer. The 521,000 acre area of land deemed Smokey Mountain National Park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border got its prestigious status as priority one protected park in 1926 for many reasons. The park, made famous by wispy apparition like clouds that descend from the atmosphere into its scattered valleys, is also home to a extremely diverse and fragile ecosystem. An estimated 4,000 species of plant life are present as well as an abundance of wildlife including one of the highest Black Bear concentrations in the U.S. In present time, the Park has taken on yet another value, as a tourist attraction. An estimated nine million people explore within the parks boundaries and set a foot on some of the oldest mountains in the world.

Sadly, the humbling beauty of the park doesn't have the ability to reveal to the average visitor that there is a serious manmade force threatening to disable the functioning of the entire ecosystem and harm anyone who recreates or lives near its vicinity.

A novice to the area many not notice it, but someone who has frequented the parks scenic vistas such as Clingmans's Dome will tell you that you used to be able see a lot farther. What is it that is distorting views on otherwise clear days? The answer, sulfur and nitrogen forms of air pollution generated consistently from several sources. As well as altering the parks famous skies, it is now widely confirmed that the pollution above the park is having serious adverse affects on the plant and animal life below, and is even a growing concern for the humans in and around the park.

The air pollution that masses around the park comes in a few forms and has many sources. Outdated (grandfather) power plants west and even north of the Smokeys, that emit massive amounts of sulfur and nitrogen oxides are primarily at fault for the degraded situation in the park. Emissions from automobiles are also to blame. The parks close proximity to several metropolitan areas as well as the millions of park visitors who are transported to and from by cars contribute to the problem as well.

The park's geographic location is a major factor in the situation. Natural wind patterns traveling west to east carry pollutants from all over the country, then the height of the mountains, physical make up of the area, and being located relatively close to the ocean help contain the pollution for prolonged time around the Smokeys.

The pollution variable effects the park and humans in numerous ways. The acid rain that falls as a result of the elevated nitrogen and sulfur levels is currently damaging several components of the sensitive ecosystem such as; old growth trees, soil, vegetation, ground water etc...The average (pH) of rainfall in the park is 5-10 times higher than normal rainfall, and clouds with even lower acidic levels interact with high elevation habitat on some spring days. Along with the ecosystem, the park as a tourist entity is on a negative slope. People come from all over to see the land in its natural beauty, not to see it dying as it has begun to. The spectacular views that were once available are now severely distorted. Air pollution has reduced visibility on a normal day from 100 miles to 25 miles, and even being reduced to under 1 mile on extreme occasions. The rotten air is not only depriving the soul of wondrous sights, it has potential to have harmful effects on your lungs. Nitrogen created ozone at ground level is harmful to the body, and ozone levels in the park are amongst the highest in the country, even more so than most urban metropolitan areas. In the summer of 2002, the park experienced 42 unhealthy air days where ozone levels were harmful to humans. The park now issues pollution advisories to visitors during bad days. A once pristine national park informing of lung damaging air is sure to dishearten



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