And 85% of national parks have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times.

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
May 14, 2019
Great Smoky Mountains National Park from NC
Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty Images

As Americans, we value our country's National Parks as a place for nature's majesty to take center stage. Unfortunately, that's becoming increasingly difficult with the pollution epidemic these treasures face.

According to a new report from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), 96% of National Parks are plagued by air pollution. Additionally, the non-profit's research found that 85% have unhealthy air to breathe at times, 88% suffer from air pollution that is damaging animals and their habitats, 89% suffer from haze pollution, and 80% of National Parks face climate change as a significant concern.

The report specifically calls out one of the South's finest parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in regards to the haziness in the sky that surrounds it. "Great Smoky Mountains National Park is, well, smoky. The term refers to the bluish mist that naturally hangs over the mountains, rather than the white or yellowish haze pollution that is commonly seen at the park," the report states, alongside three photos of what the park looked like in 1990 vs. 2010 vs. its natural state as it should appear. "It's the fate of this human-caused haze that makes the Great Smoky Mountains a symbol of both the successes of the Clean Air Act and the continued need for progress."

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Just how bad is the pollution? Pretty bad. "The poor air quality in our national parks is both disturbing and unacceptable. Nearly every single one of our more than 400 national parks is plagued by air pollution. If we don't take immediate action to combat this, the results will be devastating and irreversible," said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for the NPCA, in a press release.

"When people think of iconic parks like Joshua Tree or the Grand Canyon, they think of unspoiled landscapes and scenic views. I think they would be shocked to know that these are actually some of our most polluted national parks. Air pollution is also posing a health risk to some of the 330 million people who visit our parks each year, as well as the communities who surround them. The challenges facing our parks are undeniable, but so is our resolve to help clear their air and ensure they are protected as they were meant to be, by both their founders and by the laws in place to protect them," she continued.

Fortunately, it's easy to take action to help preserve our National Parks. First, you can carpool, walk, bike, or use public transportation as much as possible. You can also install solar panels on your home and limit the amount of animal products you eat, since meat production contributes to greenhouse gases. You may also want to consider writing a letter to congress or an op-ed to your local newspaper. For more ideas, check out page 26 of the NPCA's report.

Whatever you do, be a part of the positive change to ensure that our country can enjoy the beauty of Shenandoah National Park, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and so many more great National Parks for generations to come.