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CA’s Mountain Majesty, Hidden in the Haze

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May 20, 2008

Three Rivers, CA - California has the doubtful honor of including within its borders one of the most polluted national parks in the country - any way it is measured. And it's going to be another hazy summer in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada of eastern California, so visitors with health problems are being encouraged to check the air quality before they set out. The park staff measures more than 50 days a year of unhealthy summer air, primarily because of high ozone levels.

The EPA says it wants the park to average pollution levels over a full year instead of reporting them daily. However, Laine Hendricks of the National Parks Conservation Association says that might make the numbers look better, but it won't do anything to help remedy the causes of the pollution. She says park managers are being realistic and doing all they can, including offering a shuttle service from Visalia to try to reduce car traffic.

"They've taken it upon themselves to produce daily air alerts to visitors and staff, because, you have to remember, there are staff that work and live inside this park. They, too, are equally at risk."

Hendricks says the Sequoia and Kings Canyon problems are caused by pollution from cities and vehicles, blown into the Central Valley on air currents. About 1.5 million people visit the park, southeast of Fresno, every year.

The EPA says changing the way parks record air quality would make the reporting system more uniform.

Hendricks says more action is necessary.

"We need to work on a nationwide level, to combat issues like the coal-fired power plants outside of California, which affect other national parks, and also emissions by industry and the trucking business here in California."

The U.S. Interior Department, parent agency of the National Park Service, says nearly 90 percent of the Jeffrey pine trees in the park, which are sensitive to ozone, show what it calls "extensive damage" caused by pollution.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CA