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Southwest Shows High Levels of Dirty Air

Oil and gas production now linked to elevated air pollution levels there

TUESDAY, Oct. 7, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Unexpectedly high levels of air pollution in the southwest states are outlined in a University of California, Irvine (UCI) study.

The findings appear in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study by UCI atmospheric scientists concludes greenhouse gases released from oil and gas exploration and processing in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma result in regional air pollution levels that are similar to those found in large U.S. cities.

The researchers sampled ground-level hydrocarbon gases -- including methane, ethane, propane and butane -- in a 1,000-mile-wide section of the U.S. central and southwest regions in late 2001 and early 2002.

Levels of those hydrocarbons in and around Oklahoma City were the same or greater than levels found in high-smog cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago.

These hydrocarbons contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a major component in smog that contributes to lung ailments in children.

The study findings indicate the United States is pumping out greenhouse gases at a rate greater than formerly known.

"Based on these findings, it appears that the U.S. is emitting 4 to 6 million tons more methane per year than previously estimated," researcher F. Sherwood Rowland, a Nobel laureate in chemistry and a leading expert on air pollution, says in a prepared statement.

"In fact, our study suggests that total hydrocarbon emissions are higher than stated in current estimates. This means the American air pollution has still another new, significant aspect," Rowland adds.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about air pollution and its effect on your health.

SOURCE: University of California, Irvine, news release, Oct. 6, 2003
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