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On Top Of Old Smoggy

Sun., Aug. 27, 1995, midnight

Tests of the air on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and other peaks in the East show pollution has left a heavy footprint on high-elevation wilderness areas:

* Air on the Northeast’s tallest mountain sometimes is as acidic as lemon juice.

* Views are increasingly obscured by haze.

* Hikers breathe dirtier air the higher they go.

The effect of this pollution on hikers will become clearer in about six months, when a study by the Harvard School of Public Health is released.

“Some days you can see the haze boundary. It looks like you’re flying into New York City,” said Bruce Hill, a researcher who monitors Mount Washington’s air from stations at the base and 6,288-foot summit.

His research, part of a Harvard study, contradict the common assumption that air around the summit is cleaner.

Eastern mountains are situated in a corridor of pollution that blows up the coast and from the west. Prevailing winds carry pollution long distances once it gets into the upper atmosphere, which is why concentrations are worse at the top of the mountain than at the bottom.

Visibility on the mountain is being tested by cameras which take three photos at the same time every day. Some days, visibility is down to several miles.

At one time it was common, at the summit of Mount Washington, to be able to see Casco Bay off Portland, Maine, 70 miles to the east, and the Adirondacks of New York, 130 miles to the west.

Now, views of 70 or 80 miles are rare, said Mark Parent, a meteorologist for the weather observatory atop the mountain.

Hill hopes his figures show the need for tighter pollution controls, especially on automobiles, at a time when states are resisting pollution testing programs. Thirteen states in the East were to have started emissions tests last year, but the deadlines have been rolled back.

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