Asian Industrial Pollution Reaching New England Skies

An international group comprised of the world"s leading atmospheric scientists has found that airborne industrial pollution from Asia is lingering high over New England and the Atlantic Ocean this summer, raising concerns that improved American air quality in recent years may be jeopardized by the effects of increasing industrialization and weak regulation abroad.

“We have to be concerned whether the cost of continuing to ratchet up emission controls is not going to be offset by growing pollution coming to us from Asia,” says Daniel Jacob, deputy mission scientist for the study, dubbed the International Consortium for Atmospheric Research on Transport and Transformation. “At some point, it may be cheaper to sell pollution control equipment to China.”

According to University of New Hampshire atmospheric scientist and study team leader Robert Talbot, the new findings should lead to international treaties capping pollution outputs. “I don’t think we had the knowledge that it was quite so extensive and quite so long-range," he says. "Papers are starting to appear saying it may be difficult for several Pacific cities to meet pollution standards because of Asia.”

While the study is being coordinated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), researchers from several universities spread across six countries are aloft in airplanes and hot air balloons and are at sea in specially equipped research vessels to take readings for the intensive six-week study, which wraps up at the end of the summer. Besides learning about how pollution moves through the atmosphere, researchers are hoping to improve efforts at predicting when airborne pollution levels reach dangerous levels in various at-risk sections of the United States and beyond.