High Park Fire pollution worse than in L.A., Mexico City

FORT COLLINS — Particulate matter from the High Park fire exceeded some of the worst air pollution days in Mexico City or Los Angeles during the past decade, CSU said Tuesday.

“Not only was the air pollution some of the highest we’ve seen in decades in Colorado during the fire, its toxic strength rivaled the worst days we see in those cities,´ said John Volckens, a professor of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. “On days before the High Park Fire, the air pollution levels were some of the cleanest in the country.”

Volckens, along with chemistry professor Chuck Henry, measured toxicity with a small paper device attached to people who wore them during the fire. The device, worn on the shoulder, measured particulate air pollution.

The device could help scientists better understand the effects of air pollution on people, including how pollution leads to disease, as well as how to target pollution sources that cause the most harm.

Volckens and Henry recently published a study in Environmental Science & Technology that describes the technology.

“We have different lifestyles, different sources of air pollution in our homes and live in different proximity to major sources of air pollution in our homes,” Henry said. “We’ve always looked at air pollution from 30,000 feet. Monitoring the individual could also help people know when they’re inhaling pollutants or bringing them home from work.”

The researchers plan to create a network of citizen scientists to test the devices and help create a citywide map of air pollution levels.

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