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Clean Air Ambassador | Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Bernadette Longo

As a nurse epidemiologist, I study the health effects from exposure to various types of air pollution. In Nevada, we experience local and unpredictable episodes of wildfires that produce smoke composed of finely-sized particles and gases. Nevada's basin and range landscape, and frequent temperature inversions, provide natural barriers that trap smoke in valleys and prolongs exposure.

My research includes studies on the health effects to Hawaiian residents exposed to volcanic smog, called "vog." Kilauea Volcano has been emitting huge quantities of sulfur gases and fine particles for over 30 years. Health effects from Nevada’s wildfires and Hawaiʻi’s vog include increased cases of asthma attacks and a variety of adverse heart and breathing symptoms.

Nevada has a wealth of natural resources and mining exploits copper, molybdenum, silver and gold. Mining brings high-paid employment and wealth to Nevada, but not without a cost. The Nevada Mining Association explains that processes used to remove gold from ore can result in the release of mercury. Research findings have revealed that airborne mercury released by some mining operations has a negative effect on the environment. Mining companies are working with the EPA and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to control mercury emissions from gold mining. Together, they developed the Nevada Mercury Control Program.

Communities exposed to natural and industrial air pollution can minimize their exposure. Personal behaviors on poor air quality days should include no outdoor activities, use of air conditioning in cars and homes, and carrying rescue medicines if you have chronic illness. Public health efforts should include monitoring and alerting the public about air quality, setting standards that consider children and those with disease, and constructing or renovating buildings to maintain clean indoor air.