What do cars, dust, manufacturing operations, and national parks have in common? Regional haze.
You may have seen regional haze when trying to get a look of Mount Rainier or the North Cascades and were disappointed because you couldn’t see them easily because of a brown or white haze. That haze is air pollution and comes from a variety of sources such as vehicles, industrial and power-generating plants, and some natural sources. It can impair visibility and reduce the vibrancy of colors and other inspirational details.
Managing air pollution so we can all see a little better
Washington and other states throughout the nation have been working to ensure that you and your kids and their kids will be able to see, and enjoy, our majestic mountain wilderness areas. It’s the same sort of far-sighted vision that motivated Theodore Roosevelt when he established our national parks.
Regional haze has reduced scenic views in national parks and wilderness areas from an average of 140 miles down to 35-90 miles in the western United States. At first blush this might not seem like a serious issue, but consider this. What if you grew up never clearly seeing the epic Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, or Mount Rainier because our air pollution was too dense? It would certainly change our quality of life and impact our health and environment.
A report on Washington’s regional haze
We just released our 5-year progress report on regional haze. The report includes the advances we’ve made to improve visibility. It also shares visibility information about the areas in Washington that are being monitored.
Visibility is measured by collecting and analyzing particles in the air as part of an interagency monitoring effort. We do this in partnership with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. In Washington, there are nine monitoring sites. We collect one 24-hour air sample at each site every three days, providing up to 121 samples a year per site.We analyze the samples for substances such as sulfate, nitrate, carbon-containing particles, sea salt, and dirt and sand — all of which affect visibility. We calculate visibility based on the types and amounts of substances in the particles.
The Federal Clean Air Act requires that we make efforts to improve visibility through a Regional Haze Plan. In 1977 the Act declared a national goal to remedy existing visibility issues and prevent future haze caused by man-made air pollution at selected national parks and wilderness areas of the United States, known as mandatory federal Class 1 Areas.
Washington has eight mandatory federal Class 1 areas, totaling more than 3.3 million acres of land:
- Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area
- Glacier Peak Wilderness Area
- Goat Rocks Wilderness Area
- Mount Adams Wilderness Area
- Mount Rainier National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Pasayten Wilderness Area
Visibility is improving
Long-term monitoring trends suggest that visibility is improving somewhat at our national parks and wilderness areas listed above.
You can learn more about these trends and more by reading our Regional Haze 5-year Progress Report.
Share your opinion on our Regional Haze Report
We’re asking people to weigh in our report and have opened a public comment period. You can comment on our Regional Haze 5-year Progress Report through Aug. 1, 2017:
- Visit our regional haze web pages for more background information.
- Read the Regional Haze 5-year Progress Report.
- Comment on the report.
By Camille St. Onge, Air Quality and Climate Change Communications