ASU researchers to study and improve the air we breathe

Researchers at Arizona State received a grant to study dust and how it impacts air quality and Valley fever.
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 7:25 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — We are in the midst of the monsoon, and we all know how quickly dust can kick up as storms roll into the Valley. Unfortunately, this often creates poor air quality. But now, Arizona State University researchers are looking into improving the air we breathe. First, these researchers will look into the sources of local air pollution and Valley fever. They will then take their findings to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

For the next year, ASU researchers Pierre Herckes and Matt Fraser will work at multiple sampling sites in the Valley, collecting airborne particles that can cause respiratory and other health problems. The duo got funding from the Arizona Board of Regents. “We have our concerns with summertime ozone levels. It weakens your lungs and decreases capacity and we definitely have our dust concerns,” Fraser said.

Fraser says the agricultural land southeast of the Valley plays a big role in the amount of dust we see during the monsoon months. “There’s a lot of concern with Pinal County,” Fraser said. “We want to understand how do you stabilize agricultural land when you don’t have the water to actively plant it because planting a crop is a great way to stabilize the soil but there’s water cut backs in some of the agricultural land in Pinal County.”

The team will be applying environmentally friendly stabilizers to soil to measure changes in the amount of dust that gets picked up by the wind. If successful, these stabilizers will be put at construction sites or fields to test dust at those locations. Another big focus of theirs is looking into what is responsible for Valley fever. “The fungus is present in a lot of the desert soils, so here locally whenever there is windblown dust events, there is the possibility for people to get exposed to this,” Fraser said. “We are looking at that airborne dust exposure route and trying to understand how far do the fungal spores travel, under what conditions do they get released, and how often are they present in the airborne dust.”

The most updated numbers from the CDC show Arizona had the most cases in the country with more than 10,000. But because of lack of testing, this number is likely much higher. “Often sometimes people will go for weeks or even months trying to get over the fungal infection associated with Valley fever,” Fraser said. Fraser says it is important for people with health problems to take ozone warnings seriously. He said poor air quality can affect your lungs if you have respiratory concerns.