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Smog visible in El Paso in recent times due to poor air quality

EL PASO, Texas - Here in the Borderland, we are no strangers to air pollution or haze. At times, air pollution presents itself as a thick and dark looking cloud - full of pollutants that could harm your lungs or even your heart.

Hector Crespo-Jones at the National Weather Service El Paso office explains what smog actually is: "Smog is pretty much a type of air pollution. It’s mainly due to the emissions from vehicles, and industries and houses, as well as the burning of wood and coal."

He told ABC-7 that the word 'smog' comes from the combination of smoke and fog, because that is basically what it is. Across the world, air pollution is made up of tiny particles called particulate matter. Particulate matter can be anything from soot and sand to sulfates and nitrates. These pollutants on some days are invisible to the human eye, but on others, they are clearly visible. The factor that determines whether these pollutants will be seen or not is 100% based on the weather conditions.

First, temperature inversions must be understood. In most cases, the temperature of the air will always decrease as you go up in the atmosphere. However, in some scenarios - usually when it is a clear and calm night - a temperature inversion may form. When it does, temperatures will temporarily increase as you go up in the atmosphere, trapping colder and denser air closer to the surface.

It just so happens that air pollution is typically cooler and more dense than air around it; thus, on a clear and calm night, the polluted air will be stuck near the surface, creating what looks like a dark grey or brownish cloud. That creates poor air quality, and can effect ones health.

The United States and Mexico regulate their air quality restrictions differently. Every state in the U.S. must be in accordance with the Clean Air Act. Karl Rimkus, who is an operations manager for the City of El Paso Environmental Services told ABC-7 that the two countries are in a bi-national group which allows each side to deal with their air quality issues. 

"Each country regulates its air quality separately, but we understand that the issues go across the border. So, we try to make sure we have or if we are encountering issues that each side has a way to address it," Rimkus said.

Health issues are certainly a concern when air quality gets bad.

Rimkus noted, “the general threat is repeated exposure. If you are in an area of poor air quality year after year, decade after decade, that’s going to have a much greater effect than just one or two events.  Additionally the older, the senior citizens, the younger children, and those who have who have already been identified with respiratory or heart issues are the more sensitive.”

Rimkus recommends staying indoors as much as possible when the air quality is poor, and if you absolutely must be outside, then you shouldn't exert yourself too much. In the summer he warns to avoid going outside between mid-morning to early evening, because that is when pollution - in particular o-zone pollution - is at its worst.


Article Topic Follows: Weather News

Katie Frazier

Katie Frazier is an ABC-7 meteorologist and reporter.


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