Earth News Journal 9: Red Cedar Trees

A group of trees in the Appalachian Mountains are rebounding, according to Huffington Post’s LiveScience contributor Elizabeth Howell.

America developed as an industrialized nation during the 1900s, and much of the natural wildlife in the Northern Hemisphere was not prepared for a perpetual parade of pollutants. Toxics, like carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide, were widespread in the atmosphere during the early twentieth century, until the Clear Air Act required the Environmental Protection Agency to set air quality standards in 1970.

Since that time, scientists have been studying the growth of certain heavily-targeted species, like the Red Cedar Trees in the Appalachian district, now that air pollutants have become much more contained. The Red Cedar Trees were selected, in particular, because their home in the Ohio Valley spawned a multitude of power plants at one time, when coal and other fossil fuels were more heavily burned.

During the late 1900s, before the Clean Air Act was enacted, the Red Cedar Trees had both sulfur and carbon isotopes, alluding to pollution impacts. The trees’ stomata, or the pores that open to regulate carbon dioxide/water exchanges, were even closing because of the heavy pollution.

Studies after the CAA, however, show the isotope levels is reaching relative stability, and the stomata are re-opening. Photosynthesis and tree growth have also been noted since the enactment of such pollution-prevention regulations. Fortunately, post-1980s results are almost identical to results from the 1930s, a period during the Great Depression when fossil fuels weren’t burned as heavily as the mid-1900s. Researchers are relieved to see progress from a proposed solution thirty-three years ago.


I am encouraged that environmentalists have seen an improvement in pollution levels from certain areas of the United States. Pollutants can have nasty consequences for the environment, and species living within the environment, including human beings – sometimes, these pollutants can even facilitate death. The Ohio Valley is an endearing location in my heart. Ever since I was born, my parents have toiled the two-and-a-half hour drive back down to their homeland, to visit with my grandparents and to reconnect with their hometown. The Ohio Valley is as much a part of me as it is for them. I love the scenic views, the simple-living lifestyle, and the quaint, small-town feel. Nevertheless, I have seen the remnants of such power plants from the early 1900s, and I understand how the area would have been affected by pollution. The smoke stacks sprout along the river bank like wildflowers, and I can envision their mouths puffing deep columns of blackened soot, straight towards the river, the surrounding greenery, and to the towns nestled along the bank. It’s sickening to realize this nightmare was once a reality for the people of the Appalachian. Despite the past, I am grateful for the recovery of the Red Cedar Trees in the present, proof that the EPA’s Clean Air Act is a work in progress. Progress is progress, no matter how small – that’s how I like to view the world. I hope the researchers find more specimens who have shown recovery since the enactment of such a vital law. 

Howell, Elizabeth. “Red Cedar Trees Rebounded After 1970 Clean Air Act.” Huff Post Green. N.p., 3 Sept. 2013. Web. 5 Sept. 2013.

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