Air
Pollution

The air you breathe in the Boundary Waters came from somewhere else. Air pollution from areas surrounding the BWCAW can be carried a very long way and impact visibility and the ecology of the wilderness. In recent years, haze created by power plants and industrial operations hundreds of miles away have increasingly affected visibility in the BWCAW and Voyageurs National Park.

On a good day in the Boundary Waters, visibility can be up to 130 miles. On a hazy day, it can drop to 33 miles. But haze isn’t just an aesthetic issue. The fine particulates that cause haze can have serious impacts on human health.

Many lakes in the Boundary Waters contain high levels of mercury that impact fish, which is why there are fish consumption advisories for many lakes in the BWCAW. Most of that mercury comes from coal-burning power plants that send release mercury particulates into the clouds, and eventually falls to the earth in rain. Addressing air pollution, especially from coal-burning power plants, will reduce the amount of mercury in wilderness lakes and fish. That benefits the animals, birds, and people that eat fish.

Friends is part of a team of organizations pushing for stronger, science-based limits on the coal pollution that causes haze in the BWCAW and Minnesota’s national parks. We also joined a lawsuit asking the EPA to act on a 2009 certification by the National Park Service that the Sherco coal-fired power plant was causing haze over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, and Isle Royale National Park. In June 2014, the EPA settled this lawsuit by agreeing to study the haze caused by Sherco and make recommendations about how to prevent it. You can read more about the suit and settlement here.

In meetings with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff, testimony at public hearings, and in comment letters, we have provided science-based advocacy to help identify the complex contributors to regional haze and identify solutions that will have the greatest impact.