Asian Pollution Increases Ozone Levels in Western US
Could Make it Harder to Reach Clean Air Act Targets
The US Clean Air Act regulates, among other things, ozone pollution. A new study published in Nature shows that these standards might be harder to reach when the wind is blowing from Asia (especially in the Spring), carrying air pollution from that region. The study analyzed large sets of ozone data captured since 1984, including by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) WP-3D Orion planes pictured below.
NOAA WP-3D Orion aircraft collected ozone data for this study. Photo: NOAA
When the dominant airflow came from south and east Asia, the scientists saw the largest increases in ozone measurements. When airflow patterns were not directly from Asia, ozone still increased but at a lower rate, indicating the possibility that emissions from other places could be contributing to the ozone increases above North America. The study used springtime ozone measurements because previous studies have shown that air transport from Asia to North America is strongest in spring, making it easier to discern possible effects of distant pollution on the North American ozone trends.
From the Nature abstract:
In the lowermost layer of the atmosphere--the troposphere--ozone is an important source of the hydroxyl radical, an oxidant that breaks down most pollutants and some greenhouse gases. High concentrations of tropospheric ozone are toxic, however, and have a detrimental effect on human health and ecosystem productivity.
We're All In This Together
I think the take home message here isn't so much that Asian pollution is affecting the US, but rather that the Earth is a closed system (well, not literally, but when it comes to pollution, it mostly is) and what happens in one place has impact on other places.
A lot of that pollution coming from Asia was created because goods bought by people in the US were manufactured there. A lot of pollution from the US affects other countries (f.ex., coal plant emissions going up to Canada). It's not about pointing fingers, but about cleaning up the whole system. We can't expect that we can simply ship off polluting industries elsewhere forever; developing countries won't accept that indefinitely, and once they get out of poverty they'll also be interested in clean air/water/soil, but also, political borders don't matter to the atmosphere and the oceans.
Related: No Child Left Unpolluted In Texas: School Absence Rates Linked To Air Quality
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