The Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Project (WACAP): An Interdisciplinary Evaluation of the Impacts of Airborne Contaminants in Western US National Parks.

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Environmental Science and Technology

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American Chemical Society





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The National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 (1) required protection of the national parks for perpetuity by tasking the National Park Service (NPS) to maintain these lands “...unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Near the close of the last century, the NPS became aware of a new body of research describing a potential ecosystem threat that could not be ignored. Toxic airborne contaminants were increasingly being found in the world’s most pristine alpine and polar ecosystems, far from where such chemicals were produced or used, and the risks to the national parks of the western U.S. were unknown. Airborne contaminants present a broad range of potential risks to these ecosystems, largely due to bioaccumulation and or biomagnification of toxicants in biota, particularly vertebrates, that can result in loss of fecundity, unfit offspring, maladaptive behavior, and even death. As an outgrowth of these concerns, the Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment Project (WACAP) was initiated in 2002 to determine the risk from airborne contaminants to ecosystems and food webs in national parks of the U.S. The specific objectives that guided design and implementation of WACAP were the following: 1. Determine if contaminants were present in western national parks. 2. If contaminants were present, determine in what way and where they were accumulating (geographically and by elevation). 3. If contaminants were present, determine which ones posed an ecological threat. 4. Determine which indicators appeared to be the most useful for assessing contamination. 5. If contaminants were present, determine the source of the air masses most likely to have transported contaminants to the national park sites.

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