Detecting Biohazards in Lubbock's Air - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

1/22/03

Detecting Biohazards in Lubbock's Air

Clear skies in Lubbock, air quality high, pollution levels low; thanks to regular monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency. Nationwide, the EPA has 3,000 air quality monitors. They were installed after the passage of the Clean Air Act, ensuring that smog levels don't get too high. But since 9-11, their job description has changed, their locations kept a secret. Why? Homeland security.

"The idea for homeland defense and bio-security is to also retrofit these devices to be able to detect bio weapons," said Dr. Victoria Sutton. She's the Director of the Texas Tech Center for Biodefense.

Last week's missing plague vials had the public wondering what measures were in place to detect bio-warfare. According to Dr. Sutton, modifying the EPA monitors is an ongoing process.

"Well, they're intended to be able to pick up any biological weapon, but right now, in the development of primers, which is the identification of biological weapons in the monitors, there is capability to identify anthrax and plague," she said.

The high tech devices cost $1 million each and use DNA samples to detect biohazards -- a far cry from the day when the exhaust a '67 Chevy was the biggest threat to air quality.

"People are watching this. It is very much an issue that will have national interest to scientists and to regulators," she said.

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