Studies Probe Weather, Terrorism
By Brent Israelsen
The Salt Lake City Tribune (10-21-00)
Federal government scientists are conducting two different atmospheric studies in Salt Lake City this month.
Both will look at how air and particles flow in the atmosphere, but their data is being used to study two different Utah phenomena: weather inversions and the Olympics.
One study is part of the Department of Energy's Chemical and Biological National Security program, whose goal is to develop and improve systems the United States can use to respond to chemical and biological attacks.
In this study, a non-toxic, inert tracer chemical called sulphur hexafluoride is being released into the skies above Salt Lake City.
Monitoring and sensoring equipment are tracking the chemical to determine wind patterns, temperature and moisture patterns and how air is mixed in lower- and mid-levels of the atmosphere.
The Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reducation Agency (DTRA) is supporting this study and may use information from it for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
DTRA, which is responsible for protecting the United States and its allies from weapons of mass destruction, will use the information to assist police, fire and military personnel in the event of an attack involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or a large chemical accident, said Capt. Bob Bennett, spokesman for the agency. The study will be conducted through much of this month.
The knowledge may be useful for security during the 2002 Winter Games, though Bennett insisted the upcoming Olympics was not the motivation behind his agency's "piggybacking" on the DOE's atmospheric study.
Utah Olympics security officials this week said they were unaware of the military's involvement in the atmospheric study, but welcomed any data that might help avert or minimize the risk of terrorist attacks.
And Utah safety and health officials, who have been active in preparing for terrorism, likely will welcome it.
Scott Williams, deputy director of the Utah Health Department, visited the Sydney Games. He said he learned that every Olympics event is a potential target of bioterrorism and public-health officials can be involved in prevention. The second study is part of DOE's Vertical Transport and Mixing Program, which will look at how air mixes and moves vertically.
Scientists hope a key outcome of this experiment will be an increased understanding of temperature inversions, in which cold air settles for long periods of time in the Salt Lake Valley, trapping pollutants that are harmful to human health.
Salt Lake is the perfect location for such a study.
"Its complex topography and geographic makeup provide an ideal setting to study how cold night air collects in mountain basins," said Dawn White, with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is one of DOE's labs. It is those cold air pools sitting below the warmer air that create a temperature inversion, she explained, and trap pollutants.

The TRUTH About Sulfur Hexafluoride
From Andreas Schuld 1
Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is described in the article as "a non-toxic, inert tracer chemical".
This is entirely untrue.
Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) emitted by the electric power industry, is now among six greenhouse gases specifically targeted by the international community, through the Kyoto protocol, for emission reductions to control global warming. The others are carbon dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), methane and nitrous oxide (N2O).
SF6 is about 23,900 times more destructive, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide over the course of 100 years. EPA estimates that some seven-million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE) escaped from electric power systems in 1996 alone. The concentration of SF6 in the atmosphere has reportedly increased by two orders of magnitude since 1970. Atmospheric models have indicated that the lifetime of an SF6 molecule in the atmosphere may be over 3000 years.
Only noncontaminated gas (unused - in its pure state) is considered non-toxic.
SF6 gas is approximately five times heavier than air and tends to collect in low places, in buildings or equipment. This collection can reduce oxygen levels and can cause suffocation. Suffocation can occur without warning if the oxygen content of air breathed is reduced from the normal 20% to less than 13%.
Electric arcs in SF6 gas form toxic gases which, in the presence of moist air, have the characteristic odor of rotten eggs. Inhaling the gases can cause nausea, drowsiness, breathing difficulty, damage to the respiratory system and body organs, and death depending on the exposure level and the person's susceptibility.
Decomposition products of SF6 gas may be in the form of gases or powders. Solid decomposition products are normally metal flourides in the form of white, tan, or gray powder. Solid decomposition products in the form of powders are very fine and may not always be detected by the human eye, especially when airborne. Skin contact with such powders should be avoided as it may cause rashes, severe irritation, and death. Inhaling airborne dust should be avoided, since as with gaseous products, it may cause breathing difficulty, damage to the respiratory system, and death. Airborne dust can in addition cause eye irritation.
Exposure to decomposed SF6 is hazardous to human health.
For more information please see ORNL Report
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