Pollen Counters

Allergies are a way of life for many in the Houston region. As a result, mold and pollen reports helps some decide how much activity they will do outside or what type of medications they may need. The Houston Department of Health and Human Services has now updated the equipment to improve daily mold and pollen reports. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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Every morning microbiologist Shamika Turner walks up to the roof of the health and human services offices on the edge of the Texas Medical Center.

"So we come out here on the roof top and this is our Burkard spore trap."

The green metal spore trap is bolted to the roof, but the top portion moves with the wind like a weathervane.

"So it moves in the direction of the wind because that's how pollen and molds move."

Under a flat round piece of metal, there's a slight opening where the mold and pollen are trapped.

"It actually pulls in ten litters per minute so it's doing this all day for 24 hours."

The mold and pollen adhere to a slide which Turner retrieves daily. She carries the slide one floor down to the lab. For the next step, technology has not yet replaced the human.

"And then I put it on a microscope and I'm reading it under the microscope by hand so all of these mold spores are being counted by someone, by the human eye."

It takes a couple of hours to count the spores on the glass slide. She holds a clicker to help keep count ... and to let others know not to interrupt.

The information is then shared with the public through various means ... the information is shared with meteorologists, doctors, and researchers. The information is also loaded on the website and Turner records a phone message for the public to call.

"The following is the pollen and mold spore count for today, Thursday, September 28th, 2006. The ragweed pollen count at the Medical Center is heavy measured 162 ragweed pollen per cubic..."

Turner says the new spore trap has several advantages. The daily reports can now be issued earlier in the morning.

"There's a lot of symptoms that go along with having allergies. So if you know what the day looks like, you can dress appropriately, you can take the right medications your doctor prescribes for you, an allergist, so the information if very important for people who suffer from allergies."

The slides can also be stored indefinitely for research purposes. The new sampler collects tens of thousands of mold and pollen spores compared to hundreds with the previous equipment. This is expected to result in more accurate reports.

"The next pollen and mold spore count will be released on Friday, September 29th, 2006 at 8:30 am.

Go to KUHF dot org for a link to the daily reports and to see pictures of the spore trap. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

"Thanks and have a great day." Beep

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