Testimony Before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
October 2, 2002
By Ben Rose
The Green Mountain Club, Inc.
Senator Jeffords, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Ben Rose. I am the Executive Director of the Green Mountain Club, a 93-year-old member-supported not-for-profit hiking club headquartered in Waterbury Center, Vermont. The mission of the Green Mountain Club is to make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people, by protecting and maintaining the Long Trail (a hiking trail which runs the length of Vermont from Massachusetts to Quebec) and by fostering, through education, the stewardship of Vermont's hiking trails and mountains. The southern 100 miles of the Long Trail are part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine, and the Green Mountain Club is one of 31 local clubs, which maintain specific sections of the AT. The Appalachian Trail is the longest linear national park in the world.
Although most people do not associate scenic mountain ranges with smog, some of the dirtiest air in the United States is in our mountains. (1) Mountain air is thick with fine particulate matter—largely sulfates derived from burning coal--as well as nitrates and ozone, byproducts of power plant nitrogen oxides emissions. Unfortunately we know that the air is often at its worst in the higher elevations. This is of concern to the Green Mountain Club and sister organizations, as the Long Trail, Appalachian Trail and thousands of miles of other trails beckon hikers up into the poor quality air.
We also are concerned because we hire dozens of young people each summer as ridgeline caretakers, to work on the trails and to protect the unique alpine plants that exist only on our highest summits. These folks spend months at high elevations. They see lots of sulfate haze, and breathe it, too.
In August 2002, during a stretch of severe haze, particulate matter and ozone smog in New England, three hikers were treated with oxygen near the summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire’s highest peak, only tens of miles from the border with Vermont. Staff and hikers there reported nausea and shortness of breath. (2) During the same period, vistas from New England mountaintops were shrouded in a thick white sulfur laden haze. These are the same pollutants that cause acid rain, forming sulfuric and nitric acids responsible for the high mortality rates in our high elevation spruce and fir forests. (3)
While countless studies—many referred to by the medical researchers on this panel—have linked particulate matter to asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death, little attention has been paid to the health affects of fine particulate matter on healthy people exercising outdoors, such as hikers. (4)
The most important study to date on the subject was conducted during the summers of 1990 to 1992, when scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) studied the lung responses of hikers climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire to fine particulate matter and ozone pollution. (5)
Hikers' lung functions were measured using spirometers before and after their hikes. At the same time, ozone and PM2.5 concentrations were measured in the air at the top and bottom of the mountain. Data was also collected regarding past respiratory history and fitness levels, and current smokers were excluded. (6)
In a nutshell, the results showed that healthy hikers experienced measurable declines in short-term lung function. (7) related to ozone and as well as PM2.5.
Note that, although the PM 2.5 – correlation did not technically meet the 95th percentile confidence level, the study provides credible evidence that both ozone and particulate matter independently impact hiker’s lungs. It is important to note that the air quality during the study was only moderate, with 1-hour and 8-hour ozone levels and PM2.5 well below the federal standards. This means that even moderate levels of these pollutants reduce the lung function of healthy people exercising outdoors.
The study recommended (quote):
“Physicians, public health officials and the general public should be made aware of the potentially serious health affects of low-level air pollutants, not just in urban and industrial regions but specifically on those who engage in outdoor recreation in various wilderness areas. “ (8)
Currently a similar study is being conducted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in cooperation with the National Park Service and Emory University. Air quality in the Great Smoky Mountains is significantly worse than the air quality observed during the Mount Washington study. The Great Smokies have experienced 140 days of unsafe air quality over the past four summers. (9)
Old dirty power plants are the largest source of fine particulate air pollution in the region, accounting for half or more of the fine particulate matter and most of the sulfate deposition in the Appalachians. (10) This means that these same plants are responsible for most of the haze and acid rain as well. (11)
Many coal burning plants in the region and upwind were exempted under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and have not yet installed sulfur dioxide scrubbers or NOx catalysts, (12) even though the technology has been available for many years.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants form sulfates and nitrate particles that can be suspended in the air for weeks and can be transported hundreds of miles downwind into our wilderness areas, forests and parks.
Grandfathered coal plants are endangering public health not only to those living in cities and industrial areas but also to those of us who exercise in and enjoy the outdoors.
As a hiking club, we promote the benefits of outdoor exercise and fresh mountain air and yet we know that those who recreate in the mountains are being exposed to unhealthy air.
Current air quality and national energy policy allow unsafe levels of fine particulate matter pollution in the air of Vermont, of Northern New England, and of the entire Appalachian Mountain chain that is harmful to our lungs and those of our children. People throughout the eastern United States look to the mountains for clean fresh air. If they can't find it in Vermont, where can they go? We respectfully ask the Senate of the United States to act in support of aggressive measures to clean up power plants as embodied in S.556 and reject measures that would weaken the Clean Air Act.
1. “Out of Sight: Haze in our National Parks: How Power Plants Cost Billions in Visitor enjoyment Clean Air Task Force for Clear the Air, September 2000. Available at: http://www.clnatf.org/publications/reports/out_of_sight.html. See also American Hiker, March/April 2002).
2. Georgia Murray, Staff Scientist, Appalachian Mountain Club. Personal communication. September 2002.
3. Dr. L. Bruce Hill, Senior Scientist, Clean Air Task Force. Personal communication. September 2002.
4. “Coal blamed for haze", Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Friday, August 30, 2002
5. “Effects of Ozone and Other Pollutants on the Pulmonary Function of Adult Hikers” by Korrick, Neas, Dockery, Gold, Allen, Hill, Kimball, Rosner, Speizer. Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 106 Number 2, Feb. 1998. Conducted 1990-92, Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire, White Mountain National Forest by Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Appalachian Mountain Club. http://ehpnet1.niehs.nih.gov/docs/1998/106p93-99korrick/korrick-full.html
9. Source: Jim Renfro, Air Quality Specialist, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, National Park Service.
10. According to the National Park Service's "Air Quality in National Parks" 2nd edition, sulfate particles formed from sulfur dioxide emissions associated with fossil fuel combustion (mostly from electric generating facilities) accounts for up to 60%-80% of visibility impairment in eastern parks compared to only 30-40% visibility impairment in western states.
11. Abt Associates (2000). Out of Sight: The Science and Economics of Visibility Impairment, Bethesda, MD. Available at: http://www.clnatf.org/publications.
12.National Park and Conservation Assoc. (NPCA) Fact Sheet.
Assistance provided by Neil Woodworth, Counsel, Adirondack Mountain Club on behalf of Hikers for Clean Air Coalition