Our Polluted Parks

Contaminants have settled in the wild interior of Washington"s Olympic National Park.© www.beautifulseattle.org

Last week, federal researchers unveiled the findings of a six-year study on the presence of synthetic pollutants in 20 western national parks. Traces of the 70 worst pollutants known to and created by man (including mercury, chlorpyrifos, DDT and PCBs) were found throughout the parks studied from Colorado to California to Washington.

"We all perceive these as being the last pristine areas in the country, and we know now they are not perhaps as pristine as we thought," said Barb Maynes, a spokeswoman for Washington’s Olympic National Park. "Airborne contaminants circulate everywhere."

One of the more alarming findings of the study was mercury contamination in trout swimming in upstream waters. Mercury is a known neurotoxin emitted in large amounts by coal-burning power plants and blown for hundreds of miles before it settles in water bodies, where it is then consumed by fish and other organisms. Environmentalists are worried about the effects such pollution may have on all kinds of wildlife (terrestrial and marine). Meanwhile, some park managers are reportedly considering posting notices warning fishermen against eating any mercury-tainted fish they might catch.

While researchers from the multi-agency effort found at least trace levels of dozens of man-made pollutants at all 20 sites studied, the highest levels were at Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. Dixon Landers, the Environmental Protection Agency scientist in charge of the study, told reporters that the chemicals found can be traced back not only to nearby farms and industrial facilities but also to factories and power plants as far away as Europe and Asia, underscoring the need for international cooperation on reducing pollution of all kinds.

Sources: Seattle Times; King5.com