The National Park Service is trying to determine whether there is a link between the exhaust fumes of snowmobiles and heightened reports of illness by employees at the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Employees have complained of headaches and say they can taste oil in the air from exhausts of the two-cycle snow machines. "We're looking to see if we've got a problem," said Bob Seibert, a district ranger.On a busy winter day, up to 1,200 snowmobilers enter the park at the west entrance. At times, between 50 and 70 snowmobiles are waiting in line with engines running.

The results of the study, which began in October, may help the park service decide if changes in winter use are necessary, said park spokesperson Cheryl Matthews.

"Until we have the data, we don't know what limitations will be placed on winter use in the park," she said.

Preliminary test results don't show high levels of emissions, said Eric Kopczynski of the state Air Quality Division.

Yellowstone is popular in winter with snowmobilers, and West Yellowstone bills itself as the "Snowmobile Capital of the World."

West Yellowstone's Town Council is also awaiting results.

"The council is watching with great interest to see what comes out of the air quality study," said Ken Davis, the town's operations manager.

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Seibert said the exhaust from one snowmobile can produce the same volume of hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides as 1,000 cars and carbon monoxide emissions equivalent to between 250 and 500 automobiles.

"We have confirmed this information is accurate, grossly accurate, and provided by the snow machine industry," he added.

Roy Muth, president of the International Snow Industry Association in Fairfax, Va., said he was skeptical such statistics were founded on anything substantive.

He also said the park service should try and find ways to alleviate problems, such as opening another entrance.

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