COLLEGE STATION, - Air pollution is not just a local problem. In fact, research by geoscientists at Texas A&M University find that pollutants can travel thousands of miles, so the air you breathe may contain pollutants brought by the wind.
A team of geoscientists -- June-Soo Park, Steve Sweet, and Terry Wade -- at Texas A&M's Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) came to these conclusions while studying how pollutants such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are transported in the atmosphere to Galveston and Corpus Christi bays and removed by rain and dust. The scientists also studied how gaseous pollutants are exchanged between the air and water.
They found that air pollutants could be transported over long distances instead of being trapped in the ocean or the soil, and that gaseous water pollutants could evaporate into the atmosphere instead of staying in the ocean. In both cases, the airborne pollutants could lead to deposition of pollutants long distances from where they were produced or used.
"Most scientists used to think that organic pollutants were not present as gas in the air," Wade says. "To our surprise, we have learned over the last 30 years that organic pollutants can be in the vapor phase, which means that they can be transported over long distances."
For example, high levels of pesticides such as DDT, chlordane and toxaphene are present in beluga whales from the Arctic, where they were not used.
"What we do here in Texas can affect what is happening in the Arctic," Wade says. "We have added these contaminants to the environment, and now we can see that they are showing up in areas where we would not have expected them to be."
To assess the whereabouts of the pollutants, Wade and his collaborators used rain and air samplers that they installed close to Galveston and Corpus Christi bays.