Air Pollution: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

BY ON January 3, 2012

Mt. Rainier National Park

This is a guest post from Deanna Duke, the author of  The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You, and the blog, The Crunchy Chicken:

When I was attempting to eliminate all known exposures to toxins while I was writing my book on toxins in the environment, the physician I was working with had warned me about air pollution. This doctor, who was responsible for arranging the toxin body burden testing I would undergo for part of my book, both at the beginning and the end of the experiment, was concerned about my exposure to such toxins as arsenic, mercury and the like. And it was for good reason. Since even supposedly “pure” areas had contaminated air. What did that mean for those of us who lived in the city?

Woman sitting on bench with two childrenA few weeks prior to my initial body burden testing, my family and I took a short trip to a cabin in Mt. Rainier National Park (photo above). It’s a beautiful area, and we went for some hikes up on the mountain. As we were resting, having a snack and enjoying breathtaking views of the glaciers, I was imploring the kids to take deep breaths of fresh mountain air, explaining that it was probably the cleanest air they would ever breathe in. Unfortunately, that fresh mountain air wasn’t exactly as clean as I thought it was.

A few days after we came back from our trip, I received an e-mail regarding an article about airborne pollutants in our national parks. Right on the accompanying web page was a picture featuring Mt. Rainier. Eight years prior, the National Parks Service started a study of airborne contaminants in western national parks, focusing on a number of parks including Glacier, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Denali and Gates of the Arctic.

What they found was that, of the 100 or more toxic substances tested for, 70 were found, including some chemicals that had been banned for decades. Many fish in these parks had reached or exceeded the threshold of contaminants — including mercury and DDT and other pesticides — that made them unsafe for consumption by humans and other animals that eat them. If alpine fish were that contaminated, what did it mean for lake fish and other aquatic species at lower altitudes, presumably closer to the source?

The researchers also found, understandably, that many of the contaminants in the parks were specific to the geographic area where they were located and what businesses and industries were in the area. In other words, some pollutants like flame-retardants and pesticides were in higher concentrations if industry or agriculture using those contaminants were nearby.

In any case, the air in Mt. Rainier National Park was definitely cleaner than the air in the city, so I don’t regret all the deep breathing I subjected my family to. But our days of pristine air and water in remote areas are long gone. Fortunately, studies like these can help change policies. Because of the research and findings in our national parks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already banned some pesticides. And who knows, maybe in 30 years my children will be able to take their own kids to the national parks and the air and water will be cleaner than they are today. In the meantime, I’ll continue to fight for clean air not just in our national parks but in our neighborhood parks as well.

Thank you, Deanna for standing up for clean air!

The Non-Toxic Avenger book coverDeanna Duke is the author of the blog, The Crunchy Chicken, and the book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.


Photos used with permission: Deanna Duke

TOPICS: Motherhood, Pollution