SOCORRO, N.M., June 27, 2002 -- The smoky haze from the Arizona wildfires that has permeated the skies above Socorro and most of New Mexico for the past four days is obscuring the state's vistas, but is not elevating the level of air pollutants to the point where it would exceed federal standards, according to New Mexico Tech researchers who regularly monitor air quality at the university.
New Mexico Tech chemistry professor Carl J. Popp and his research associates have been monitoring airborne particulates, ozone, and oxides of nitrogen, as well as aldehydes, such as formaldehyde, and acids, such as acetic acid, as part of the research they conduct in collaboration with the ongoing Western States Visibility Assessment Program.
"So far, the worst period was early Monday morning, when the 'M' Mountain, just west of campus, was obscured," Popp relates. "We observed high particulate counts that morning, as well as high levels of oxides of nitrogen, both of which can be directly attributed to combustion from the wildfires.
"However, the limits did not come close to exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards," he says.
"Particulates are still elevated above normal," Popp points out. "In the middle of the week, the values were about twice
what they normally are for this time of year, but they're not any worse than what we see in New Mexico when we have the high winds in spring, blowing all that dust around."
Nevertheless, Popp cautions that the levels he and his group have been monitoring the past few days are probably still high enough to aggravate respiratory problems in some people. "Even so, it's still a lot better than the average day in L.A.," he says.
New Mexico Tech student Alicia Frazier, Tech grad student Octavio Valenzuela, and Suilou Huang, a research associate at Tech's Geophysical Research Center, are assisting Popp in the ongoing air-quality study.