News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Report from Smokies shows hope for Valley

It's not very often that we get good reports about the atmosphere, especially in this part of the country. It seems the bad aspects of the ozone layer — acid rain, particulate levels, air quality levels, pollen counts and other factors — seem to grab the headlines.

Nuclear plants, such as our own Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, also get adverse publicity, especially when trying to extend permits or obtain permits to start or restart a reactor. The Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-fired turbines also aren't high on environmentalists' lists as far as favorable mention goes.

With this dearth of adverse publicity about our air quality, it's good to see that a recent National Park Service study shows that in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, some types of pollution are holding the line. They haven't gotten any worse as they had in years past.

Although it isn't a recovery, it is good news for those of us who enjoy heading to the park for camping or other recreation, or on to Gatlinburg, Tenn., to catch a few country music shows, go to an amusement park or just sit in an Adirondack chair and enjoy the magnificent vista provided by the often cloud-covered mountains.

The park service's Air Resources Division studied visibility, ozone pollution and acid rain over 10 years and released its findings in a report issued this month. Most of the data showed a stable trend.

The park was listed as one of the most polluted in the country in a 2004 study by environmental groups including the National Parks Conservation Association. Parts of eastern Tennessee bordering the park do not meet federal air quality rules.

Air pollution has been a concern for many years in the Smokies, where haze can reduce visibility in some areas to about 15 miles in the summer when it should be closer to 80 miles. The bluish cast that gave the park its name is naturally caused by wispy clouds that form across Appalachian ridges after rain.

While we would wish for no pollution, in this day that's pretty much an impossibility.

With the addition of more industry, encroaching homes from ever-increasing populations, and higher traffic counts, it's still a good sign that the park has remained stable since 1994.

Because none of the measures tracked showed a degrading trend, the Smokies and 30 other national parks among the 49 reviewed were considered to have improving or stable air quality during the period, and that's the good news.

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