© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meet The Man Behind Kansas City's Pollen Count

Every morning, Dr. Charles Barnes treks up to the roof of Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., to pull a collection slide out of the hospital's spore trap, a small machine consisting of a vacuum pump and wind main.

The little plastic slide may not look like much, but it provides an accurate pollen count for the entire Kansas City metro area.

"We've had this same technology and process for the last 24 years," Barnes says. "It's really pretty simple."

Barnes, who got his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Southern Mississippi, first came to Children's Mercy in 1990 to study proteins and the allergenic effect they can have.

Providing the daily pollen count for the Kansas City metro is just part of the job, and usually takes up about a quarter of his day, but can take longer if there is a particularly high amount of pollen in the air.

The final report is usually finished by noon and posted to Children's Mercy's website

"One of the reasons we do the pollen count is to help people know what they are sensitive to," Barnes told host Gina Kaufmann on Central Standard."I'm very allergic to ragweed, so I'll wear a mask when I work outside on my farm."

Though pollen counts vary based on season, weather and temperature, the basic counting process is a constant.

Even the spore trap itself is unassuming and small. It sucks in air, catching pollen, spores and other particulate matter that might be floating around. Barnes simply pulls out the slide and takes it down to the lab, where it is dyed fuchsia so it is easier to identify spores and pollen. 

Creating a pollen count does require someone to actually count the pollen grains under a microscope, but they don't have to scour the entire slide. Barnes or one of his staff members will count all the pollen in one section of the slide and then average it out for the day's collection. 

So the next time your allergies are flaring up, give Children's Mercy's pollen count a look. You might be glad you did.

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.