Environmental policy guided by science saves lives, money and ecosystems, according to a new national report compiled by 11 senior researchers, including University of Virginia environmental sciences professor James Galloway.

Using air pollution in the United States as a case study, the investigators highlight the success of cleanup strategies backed by long-term environmental monitoring.

Their report is published online now in the journal Environmental Science and Policy.

“The detrimental impact of human action on the environment has never been greater,” Galloway said. “But just as humans have damaged the environment, they have also worked to address environmental problems. This paper presents several examples of where there are success stories with addressing the problems caused by air pollution.”

James Galloway leads a long-term study in Virginia that has demonstrated the efficacy of the Clean Air Act in reducing mountain stream acidity. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

The report notes that air pollution has been linked to illness and premature death in humans, and when it falls on forests and freshwater bodies and streams, it also compromises habitat, water quality and the functioning of ecosystems essential to human well-being.

“Reducing air pollution is good for our health and keeps industries like forestry, tourism and fisheries viable,” Galloway said.

Across the U.S., the researchers report, the quality of air and freshwater has vastly improved in recent decades, mainly due to the Clean Air and Clean Water acts enacted nearly 50 years ago.

Since the 1970s, monitoring sites have recorded declining concentrations of airborne pollutants such as sulfur, nitrogen, mercury and lead. Precipitation has become less acidic, improving water quality in lakes and streams. Visibility-limiting haze and concentrations of ground-level ozone also have decreased.

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