Geology professor co-authors study of arsenic in OHV area

Dirk Baron, CSUB professor of geology
Dirk Baron, CSUB professor of geology

A report co-authored by CSUB geology professor Dirk Baron is getting lots of press in Nevada today. This is because research he participated in shows that there are high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in the dust that gets kicked up by off-road vehicles in the Nellis Dunes area just outside of Las Vegas. Although it is unknown whether the arsenic poses a health risk to recreational users of the land, the Bureau of Land Management (which commissioned the study) is posting signs in the area letting people know about the material’s presence.

“I was approached by these folks because of the analytical capabilities in my lab,” Baron wrote in an e-mail. “I have an instrument called an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) that can measure the concentration of most elements in a sample at very low levels. We did all the chemical analyses including those for arsenic which turned out to be elevated and cause for concern.”

According to Baron, the ICP-MS is a very sophisticated and expensive instrument worth about $250,000 and not all universities have one.

“So I often get approached for these collaborative projects,” he writes. “My instrument was funded by a grant from the US Department of Defense a number of years ago.  The same program  more recently funded the scanning electron microscope.  I now have a graduate student who is doing a more detailed chemical and microscopic study of the dust samples for her MS Geology thesis.”

Baron co-authored chapters 9 and 10 of the report: www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/lvfo/blm_programs/more/nellis_dunes_dust.html

Here is a link to the BLM’s press release about the report: www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/lvfo/blm_information/newsroom/2011/january/dust_study_of_nellis.html

And here is a link to the Las Vegas Review-Journal article about the study’s findings: www.lvrj.com/news/blm-study-reveals-high-levels-of-arsenic-in-dust-at-nellis-dunes-114766599.html

– Jennifer Baldwin, CSUB Public Affairs Coordinator

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