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What Is This Stuff?
A conversation w/
Rusty Dobkins

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What Is This Stuff?

What Is This Stuff covering south facing windows throughout Grant County, NM?

A conversation w/ Rusty Dobkins

On Monday 7 January 2008 a storm blew in out of the Southwest across Grant County delivering heavy rains which left a milky residue on windows, cars, pets, roofs, lawns and all else. Rusty Dobkins has been leading the local effort to determine What Is This Stuff?

GRIP / Gila Resources Information Project

A powerful weather system developed in the northern Pacific in the days preceding the "milky rain" here.  The storm developed tremendous winds, came on shore in California and dropped over 10 feet of snow in the High Sierras and more in the Rockies.  The storm also interacted with weather to the south resulting in a system moving up from Mexcio, across SE Arizona and into SW New Mexico.  Witnesses in SE Arizona driving east on I-10 gave their accounts of "white curtains of dust" reaching high in the sky above playas - dry lake beds - to the south as the storm approached.

However, high winds and atmospheric dust are common here and the residue that occured in areas including Lordsburg,Silver City, Alma, Glenwwod, Mule Creek, Gila, Mimbres, the Cliff Dwellings, the Tyrone Mine and  White Signal was described as "unprecedented" by researchers and atmospheric experts with whom Dobkins spoke.

Rusty DobkinsDobkins initiated a comprehensive search and series of consultations with the National Weather Service and NMED / NM Environment Department and the chain of his inquiries extended to included faculty and staff at NMSU / Las Cruces, NM Tech /  Socorro and University of Texas / El Paso, the Sheriff's Departments in Grant and Luna counties, El Paso Airport and many others.  The Albuquerque Journal covered the story on 16 January 2008.

In parallel to Rusty's inquiries, Allyson Siwik at GRIP / Gila Resources Information Project also began seeking out an explanation and they then collaborated to share information, gather samples and submit them for testing at the universities mentioned above and the NM Environment Department.

A number of sources have been considered or speculated upon including chem trails, volcanic eruptions and mine tailings from Tyrone, Safford or Morenci but no determination has been made to date.  We await the lab results as to the composition of the residue in hopes that definitive evidence will be produced as to the source.

The effects may be essentially benign but given the direction from which the storm approached Grant County, another concern arose - Valley Fever.  Valley Fever is an upper respiratory disease caused by inhalation of a fungus that lives in dry desert soils.  The fungal spores are often air borne and inhalation can result in flulike symptoms.  

About 60% of those exposed show no symptoms at all.  A single exposure essentialy immunizes against future exposures and fortunately, it is not spread from person to person..  However the other 40% can experience flu-like symptoms which range from mild aches and upper respiratory congestion to incresingly sever symptoms and pneumonia.  

A very small number - perhaps 1 in 200 - develop a form of the disease that can spread - fatally - from the lungs via the blood stream to the skin, bones and membranes of the brain, triggering meningitis.  Dobkins brought this to the attention of ER and lab staff at Gila Regional Medical Center.  As we are now in the flu season, added vigilance of the possibility that apparent flu patients may have contracted Valley Fever if it has indeed been swept up and delivered to Grant County from it's native regions along the border and South into Mexico.  So far no cases have been reported but given an incubation period of 10 to 20 days, we aren't out of the woods yet.

While test results are awaited, it gives pause for considering our relationship to our environment and how such an incident - coupled here with an obvious visual indication - combined with some other factor such as an industrial accident, a nuclear power plant "event," incident of terrorism, or increasing levels of pollution which we become more complacent about accepting, could be a true emergency.  But what if we could not see the residue?  What if action was not taken immediately to avert or mitigate ill effects?

We expect test results and hopefully a plausible explanation confirmed by factual evidence as to the source and nature of this phenomenon.  In the mean time we thank Rusty Dobkins, Allyson Siwik, and the many academics, experts, and agency personnel that have been so responsive in collaborating to determine, What Is This Stuff?

South facing window in Gila.

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Gila Resources Information Project

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Albuquerque Journal on the "Rainy Riddle"
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Dr Tom Gill / AP Geology & Enviro Science at UTEP
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Global Volcanism Program

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more USGS Volcano activity
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Valley Fever info
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Gila Regional Medical Center