SNP pollution

Brent Finnegan -- June 20th, 2007

WSVA is reporting that Shenandoah National Park has some of the least healthy air of any park in the National Park System. According to a new report from the National Parks Conservation Association, ozone levels “have reached unhealthy levels in the park on more than 130 occasions since 1983,” The most recent published report I could find says, “the park does not currently meet ground-level ozone standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health and welfare. The park registers some of the highest ground-level ozone measurements recorded at all national parks.”

That report cites burning coal as the number one cause of the emissions. “Shenandoah has among the highest monitored concentrations of airborne sulfate particles, the primary cause of hazy skies. With an annual average visibility of 24 miles, views must be improved by nearly 100 miles in Shenandoah National Park to reach natural conditions,” according to the report. “Air pollution, particularly during the summer season, has significantly degraded the distance, color, contrast and landscape details of park views from Skyline Drive, the Appalachian Trail, and high points in the park.”

Apparently there’s a webcam to help monitor visibility at SNP, but it has been out-of-commission due to lack of funding.

From the NCPA website: “Clean air laws are helping the parks gradually recover from decades of pollution. But that could all change as the country is on the verge of a massive increase in the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to meet our growing energy needs.”

29 Responses to “SNP pollution”

  1. linz says:

    This makes me sad.

  2. David Miller says:

    It makes me angry

  3. Thanh says:

    There are many things we can all do to help reduce bad air in Shenandoah National Park. One thing that is directly related to coal, sulfate in the air, and hazy skies is to use less electricity at home and at our work places. Turn off the computer, printers, TV, lights when they are not in use and/or unnecessary. A large percentage of our energy comes from coal burning power plants. About a month ago I was in Chesterfield, VA outside of Richmond and drove past the Dominon Power Station ( There was mounds and mounds of coal, hundreds of feet high, wide, and long. Apparently this power station is nothing compared to the power station in Newport News, VA. I took some pictures of the power station, but never shared it with anyone else because it just didn’t capture the size and awesomeness of the facility. Anyway, the less electricity you use the less air emissions you will create and the better our air and our lungs are.

  4. Zowie says:

    Oh man.

    We’re contemplating a move to the Shenandoah Valley (Harrisonburg or Staunton) and I have asthma, well controlled, but this still gives me pause. Anecdotally, does anyone have any information on any connection to increased pulmonary disease in the valley? Apart from the obvious environmental distress this is causing, is there any information on the health effects, particularly in children and the elderly?

    Is it the placement (as well as the waste) of a coal fired plant that feeds the problem? Does the pollution settle in the valley? Forgive all the questions. Were we already living in the area, I would have obsessively researched this all along. We’re so delighted by the prospect of moving there, but I suppose this is a whack between the eyes reminding us that moving away from a large city doesn’t mean moving away from potentially dangerous air pollution.

  5. Zowie,

    Any time you move into a true valley, you’re going to have bad air in and around it (see Colorado Springs, Denver — the Front Range, and Los Angeles). Nothing really new here, just a restatement about something those who lived in and around here have known for years.

    Come on in, the air’s just fine.

  6. Karl Magenhofer says:


    You would be served to head over to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality webiste. They post some real time air quality info. I think you’ll find that here in the valley the park is the only place that suffers from high ozone on a regular basis.

    BTW, Happy Birthday to Christa.

  7. Frank Witt says:

    I once heard but never had the chance to follow up on this line. A forrest of trees that are full grown and allow very little light to reach the canopy floor does more harm than good to the air quality. Meanwhile a feild of grass produces mass amounts of oxygen.

    I tried to look up some answers to why forrested areas are unhealthy to the air but found just a little info.

    Hope I am not out of line to suggest such a thing.

  8. finnegan says:

    Thanks for the links.

    And yes, Happy Birthday to Christa!

  9. David Troyer says:

    Is it the placement (as well as the waste) of a coal fired plant that feeds the problem? Does the pollution settle in the valley?

    From my understanding, the pollution settles from coal fired plants from many places west of here, and not necessarily a direct result of a coal fired plant in the valley.

  10. Karl Magenhofer says:

    If I recall past stories, the plants are in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania. I think that is one of the more difficult things for the park to deal with. The outside factors are really outside and there’s not much that they can do locally to fix the problem.

    BTW, a new story out today says that the EPA wants to re-write the ozone regs. That would mean even more days would be classified as poor at the park and the valley at large.

  11. Doesn’t the proximity to the mountains contribute by not allowing winds to clear the air out on those hot and sticky days. While the wind IS blowing, it flows more at the altitude of the peaks of the mountains and not to the valley floor. no?

  12. Zowie says:

    Thanks for the information and the links. I’d heard stories a number of years ago about diminished visibility in the park and I’m ashamed to say it drifted into the hum of my brain’s dormant section. Now, as we consider a move to the area, I can’t believe I didn’t follow this story. Was anything proposed/acted upon when the evidence of pollution and the resulting visibility problems emerged?

    Has this had an effect on the local tourism industry?

  13. David Troyer says:

    I believe the visibility issues have been so gradual that only someone well aged would be able to say “When I was your age we could see (insert random peak) from here”.

    It appears that tourism to the parks has been decreasing:

    Shenandoah National Park Visitor Statistics (PDF)

  14. Josh says:

    David, I wonder if that is in direct correlation to their entrance fees increasing? It costs $15/7-days, $30/year for entrance. I believe this was a 50% or so increase a year or two back. I’m sure the increasing cost of gas is also a factor as visiting parks generally requires a lot of driving.

    P.S. $30 is a bargain for a year of entries; it costs more than that to take a family to one movie!

  15. Daytonres says:

    This is off topic, but I hope Finnegan will start a thread on the WV something or other deciding no wind farm in Pendleton County. Everybody is for saving the planet, just not in their backyard I guess. I think this is where Dave was headed some time ago when he attacked another person on their longer commute. Disclaimer: Dave’s attack did come without finding out if the person he was attacking drives a hybrid or E-85 vehicle.

  16. You mean a Prius, which costs more in fossil fuels to manufacture that the car will ever save you on gasoline, or the E85 vehicles which don’t get the mileage that gas-operated cars do?

  17. Prius costs more in fossil fuels to manufacture than a HUMMER.

  18. Daytonres says:

    You know a lot more about this than I do Dave, I just didn’t want anyone to think I was flaming them. I think your point from the old post was a valid one and could spark some discussion on what we are all doing to reduce our carbon footprint.

  19. Thanh says:

    Dave, where did you get those ideas about the comparative life cycle analysis of a Prius versus a Hummer? (You did not provide sources of statistics.) I did some searching around on the internet and I found this paper by the Pacific Institute: , “Hummer versus Prius
    “Dust to Dust”: Report Misleads the Media and Public with Bad Science”, May 2007. The Pacific Insitute paper states in its abstract “Closer inspection suggests that the report’s [Dust to Dust, by CNW Marketing] conclusions rely on faulty methods of analysis, untenable assumptions, selective use and presentation of data, and a complete lack of peer review. Even the most cursory look reveals serious biases and flaws…” A link to the report “Dust to Dust” is provided in Pacific Institute paper.

  20. Thanh says:

    Anyway, I disagree that the Prius has a higher life cycle cost than the Hummer.

  21. Lowell Fulk says:

    I’d be interested in seeing your data too Dave.

  22. zen says:

    Dave>> I’ve heard that said before about Prius vs. Hummer, but only from (other) global warming deniers. Do you have a link to that information?

  23. Karl Magenhofer says:

    Answering a question: yes tourism is down at Shenandoah National Park. The park people were at the R’ham BOS last night and said visitation is down about five percent. Of course there was no mention of the ozone playing a part. The park did float a phrase I had never heard before “nature deficit disorder.” NDD is not treatable with ritalin, but it is apparently a phenomenon that has culturally moved kids away from the outdoors.

  24. Emmy says:

    Wow, everything really is a disorder these days.

  25. Thanh says:

    “Nature deficit disorder” – its a phrase coined by Richard Louv, columnist and chairman of the Children & Nature Network. I’m actually reading a book of his right now called “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” He was a keynote speaker at the 2007 Environment Virginia Conference, which is where I first saw and heard of him. Here is something from NPR. . And this article by Louv in Orion Magazine is a short version of his book – . There is a great need to reconnect children to nature. Please read that article and hopefully you’ll understand.

  26. Emmy says:

    Oh I agree Thanh, I know that children have gone from spending every daylight hour outside to sitting in front of a computer or TV screen. I just think its amusing that everything is given a label like this these days. I don’t doubt for a minute that it is a real and growing problem.

  27. It is reality. Our 14 year old daughter, with the help of her cell phone (texting and calling), the home computer and television, ould rather not go outside if we didn’t keep tabs.

    The distance between friends also causes headaches because we cannot keep running her from our side of town to her friends houses in the country Club estates and 2 of her best friends live out on Port road out of town, plus try and keep our business thriving.

    Maybe I have a disorder labeled IDHETTDIA.

    I Don’t Have Enough Time To Do It All…and man am I suffering from it this year…

    Ritalin where are you?

  28. Thanh says:

    Frank, the feelings you describe is exactly what is described in that article I previously posted.

    As one suburban fifth grader put it to me, in what has become the signature epigram of the children-and-nature movement: “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”


    Urban, suburban, and even rural parents cite a number of everyday reasons why their children spend less time in nature than they themselves did, including disappearing access to natural areas, competition from television and computers, dangerous traffic, more homework, and other pressures.

  29. Thanh, I couldn’t agree more. I was just relating our problems as working parents and the spralw of suburbia.

    Always great to know that some people actually care!

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