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Air Pollution, New England

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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Air Pollution Clouds the View in New England
By Andrea Lani

On top of Acadia National Park’s McFarland Hill in Maine a camera takes a
picture of the view across Frenchman Bay every 15 minutes. It’s part of a
national network of monitors that track air pollution in our national parks
and wilderness areas.  

What, you may ask, is air pollution doing in our national parks and how can
you see with a camera?

Although we tend to think of visible pollution as a phenomenon restricted to
car-clogged cities like Los Angeles, regional haze is a pollution problem that
can reach into the most remote areas of the country, including national parks
and wilderness areas.

While you may not see a thick brown cloud of smog the next time you hoof
(or motor) up Cadillac Mountain, Maine, it’s possible that you may not see
much at all. That’s because haze, made up of small particles of pollution
(“particulate matter”), can obscure the view by absorbing or reflecting light.
This is a fancy way of saying you can’t see very far because tiny bits of liquid
and solid stuff make everything look “hazy.”

Here in the Northeast, most of the haze on the worst visibility days is due to
sulfates, which are pollutants that come mainly from coal-fired electric
utilities.  Nitrates which can come from electric generation as well as
transportation (i.e. cars), are another source of haze.  Dirt and dust also
contribute to haze.

To most of us whose vacation success doesn’t depend on glimpsing that one
great vista, regional haze may not seem to be a big deal. Unfortunately, the
particle pollution that makes up haze is a big deal.

The teeny tiny particles that are more likely to limit visibility are also more
likely to work their way deep into your lungs when you breathe in:  this can
cause shortness of breath, reduced lung function and even long-term damage
to the tissues.  People with existing lung or heart conditions are especially
sensitive to the effects of particle pollution, as are children, the elderly and
those who are physically active outside—hikers included.

In addition, the sulfates and nitrates that make up the biggest portion of haze
are also the culprits in acid rain that can damage to our lakes and forests.

So how can we protect ourselves and our favorite views from regional haze?
The first step is to stay informed. When experts predict high levels of air
pollution, avoid strenuous outdoor exertion, like hiking. You can get the
latest air quality forecast at or by calling DEP’s air
quality hotline at 1-800-223-1196.

To help reduce air pollution, try to limit your own activities that contribute
to it. Conserve electricity by switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, turning
off unneeded appliances and setting A/C temperatures a few degrees higher.
Try driving less by carpooling, combining trips and walking, biking or just
staying home.

Doing your part might just help “clear” the picture!  Visit
for the latest view at Acadia and other sites around the Northeast.

About the author: This column was submitted by Andrea Lani, an
Environmental Specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) Bureau of Air Quality.  
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Hazy day on Acada, photo courtesy of
Clear day on Acada, Maine, Photo courtesy of