Air pollution degrading major ecosystems

July 22nd, 2008 - 3:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 22 (IANS) Air pollution, known for its damaging impact on health, is also fast degrading major ecosystems, according to a report. The deleterious effects are visible in forests, streams and wetlands in the mid-Atlantic area of US, according to a new report by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and The Nature Conservancy.

The report is the first to analyse the large-scale effect that four air pollutants are having across a broad range of habitat types. The majority of recent studies focus on one individual pollutant, with a highly negative prognosis by 32 experts.

“Everywhere we looked, we found evidence of air pollution harming natural resources,” said Gary M. Lovett, an ecologist at the Cary Institute and co-author of the report.

“Decisive action is needed if we plan on preserving functioning ecosystems for future generations,” he said.

The pollutants assessed - sulphur, nitrogen, mercury, and ground-level ozone - largely originate from smokestacks, tailpipes, and agricultural operations. While initially airborne, these pollutants eventually contaminate the soil and water.

Airborne emissions can travel long distances before making their way back to the ground. Because eastern US is downwind from large industrial and urban pollution sources, it receives the highest levels of deposited air pollution in North America.

At the heart of the report is a call to action. Currently, US air quality standards are determined by direct impact to health, with regulations targeting emission levels - what leaves tail pipes and smoke stacks.

They do not take into account where airborne pollution is actually deposited in the landscape or how this pollution compromises our soil and water resources and resident plants and animals.

“To safeguard ecosystem health, we need a new way of thinking about air pollution - one that moves beyond measuring what is put up in the air, and captures actual impacts to natural areas, wildlife, and the services they provide,” Lovett noted.

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