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More than a Franciscan Friar

Young also monitors the quality of air

By Richard Carter

As a Franciscan friar, Zane Young actively helps others as friars have done before him dating back to the 13th Century. But reflecting the change in time and technology, Young also works to make a difference in his community by monitoring regional air quality.

Young has been research coordinator for the Texas Tech University Air Quality Research Monitoring Operations in the area since March 2005. He does monitoring for air quality and particulate matter in the Wichita, Archer and Clay counties and issues air quality advisories when necessary.

The monitoring site runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is linked into the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality system in Austin, which calls for updates every 5 minutes. Young does necessary tear downs, verifications and quality checks of the highly sensitive measuring devices. He also lowers the mast and the boom when necessary and checks on monitors and sensors.

Currently a Ph.D. student at Texas Tech, he sort of fell into his job in 2005 while working for the area health department. He had called the regional TCEQ director in Abilene and asked a question they didn’t have an answer for. Hours later, they returned the call and asked him if wanted to work as an air monitor.

The data that he has collected locally found its way into his thesis for his master’s degree at Texas Tech in environmental engineering. From March 2005 to August 2008, he collected data, which he then used to prove that there were air problems locally and that regional air monitoring was necessary.

He discovered that annually, from the fall to early spring, there is a regional transport of dust and particulates to this area from West Texas. From May to September, our area gets a regional transport of ozone from Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. From March to April, the area gets a regional transport of potentially harmful particulates from Mexico when the farmers south of the border burn their fields before planting crops.

Locally, he measures the rate of particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns per milliliter or less, particulates that would be small enough to lodge in the tissues of human lungs and not be expelled. You get up a buildup of toxicity that way,” he said. Air research studies are done in Texas counties with larger cities, larger state parks or areas with specific air issues that are potentially hazardous to humans.

Along with being a scientist, Young has been a friar with the Order of Saint Francis (of Assisi) since July 2005. Technically, he is called a minister general and basically oversees 10 other brothers nationwide. He works closely with an advisory council: one member in London, one in Newcastle, Australia, and two bishops — one in Seattle and one in Florida.

Each of his brothers has his own parish and attends services weekly. Young is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church locally and his ministries include working with Interfaith Ministries Food Bank and First Step. Young was raised Presbyterian until he went to college. I was drawn to the Episcopal Church because of its openness, social justice issues and it was more of accepting of women and their role in church life.”

He got involved with St. Stephen’s after a co-worker in the area health department (who was a member of St. John in Burkburnett) suggested he attend her church. “‘You’ll like Father Chris,’ she told me, and I did enjoy him, the services and the people.” While Young is an active member of St Stephen’s, he is under religious vows to the Diocese of Olympia located in Seattle.

He was born in West Texas near Lubbock, though he grew up in Wichita Falls and graduated from Rider. His family still has a farm there where his father presently lives. An only child, he is not married and has no children, though being a friar does permit that. In high school, he worked for KFDX-TV Channel 3 and then KAUZ-TV until 1985 when he went off to Texas Tech to study landscape architecture.

He retuned to Wichita Falls in 1993 to take a job with the Texas Parks and Wildlife department and completed his BAAS degree at MSU in 1997 in applied arts and sciences. Once he completes his PhD, he will continue to do air research and would like to teach.

Photo Credit: Torin Halsey/ Times Record News

Copyright 2009; Scripps/Times Record News

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