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Haze from Mexican and Central American Fires

Release Date: 5/15/1998
Contact Information: For more information contact the Office of External Affairs at (214) 665-2200.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working closely with the states in Region 6 to assess the haze drifting northward from Mexican and Central American fires.

"EPA has organized a group of more than 40 air quality experts and has budgeted more than $150,000 to assist state agencies in gathering information about this extraordinary incident. Today four teams of air quality experts have been dispatched from the Regional office to set up new fine-particulate monitors in Dallas, San Antonio, Galveston and Brownsville, Texas," EPA Regional Administrator Gregg Cooke said.

These new monitors will supplement three existing monitors in Houston, Corpus Christi and Austin, Texas. They will begin collecting samples May 16. Samples will be collected daily and also will be tested to see if other air quality problems exist. Test results should be available within days and will be provided to the state of Texas.

The State will determine if health precautions are needed and will notify the public. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission has set up a toll-free number to provide information about the smoke and possible health concerns. Information is updated daily. The number is 1-800-687-4040.

Fine particulate monitors are designed to measure very small particles (2.5 micrometers and smaller) that are found in this type of haze. These new monitors will join a network of monitors that has been measuring larger particles (10 micrometers and smaller), for several years.

Numerous health studies show there is greater concern for the smaller particles, because particles this size are more likely to be inhaled into the lungs. Last year, EPA adopted a new health-based standard for these very small particles for the first time. The new standard for matter 2.5 micrometers and smaller is a 24-hour average of 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Particulate matter, while an important part of air quality, is not related to ozone. Ozone is formed by volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen reacting with sunlight, and is the primary cause of air quality problems in this area.