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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU scientists study dust in the wind - and everywhere else

In one of the biggest hits of the 1970s, the rock group Kansas sang, "Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind."

Mexico, the problematic dust in the wind, considered one of the most serious environmental concerns, is being studied along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Dust, or particulate matter (PM10), can cause health problems including skin rash, cough and throat irritation, asthma, respiratory distress, headaches, dizziness, chronic lung irritation and vision problems, said Sonya Andron, environmental health research specialist with New Mexico State University's Border Epidemiology and Environmental Health Center, NMSU BEC. PM10 particles include dust and other irritants that can cause respiratory problems. PM2.5 particles include smoke or chemicals that can be breathed in more deeply.

The Columbus, N.M., and Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, communities expressed concerns about their air quality to the Environmental Protection Agency Border 2012 Rural Task Force. These concerns prompted NMSU BEC and the New Mexico Department of Health Office of Border Health to apply for a grant to study air quality monitoring in the two communities.

The grant, worth more than $58,000 and funded by the Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research and Policy or SCERP, was awarded in April 2005. SCERP is made up of researchers who work in many disciplines such as public health, science and technology, engineering, business management, policy studies and economics at 10 major universities in the U.S. and Mexico.

Andron said support from U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) has been instrumental in continuing the SCERP funding stream to the border area.

With the grant and help from Dan Galindo of the New Mexico Environment Department, researchers placed two PM10 air quality monitors in Columbus and Puerto Palomas. Also, a PM2.5 air quality monitor was placed at a neutral location relatively close to both communities. The data that is collected will help provide baseline information on air quality and pollutants in rural communities along the border.

"It is imperative to collect data before creating a remediation plan," Andron said.

The project is the first of its kind in the Columbus and Puerto Palomas area.

Bob Nosbisch
Jan. 4, 2006