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Picture of the Day

Study shows why Eastern US air pollution levels are more stagnant in winter

The air in the United States is much cleaner than even a decade ago. But those improvements have come mainly in summer, the season that used to be the poster child for haze-containing particles that cause asthma, lung cancer and other illnesses. Particles that form smog come in different flavors. Two important ones are sulfates, from sulfur dioxide emitted mainly by coal-fired power plants, and nitrates, created from nitrogen oxides known collectively as NOx. Air-quality regulations have lowered sulfur dioxide in the U.S. by 68 percent between 2007 and 2015, and NOx by about a third during that time. Summertime levels of particulates -- when the two flavors of oxides clump up into watery packets of nitrates and sulfates that create beautiful sunsets but harm human health -- have dropped in the Eastern US by about a third during that time. But the winter concentrations of particulates have decreased by only half as much, for reasons that had been unclear. The findings suggest that more emissions reductions of both sulfur and nitrogen oxides will be needed to improve wintertime air quality in the Eastern US and other cold climates.

Visit Website | Image credit: Lyatt Jaeglé/University of Washington