Cavity ring-down spectroscopy was explored as a means to measure atmospheric optical extinction. Ambient air was sampled through a window on the campus of the University of Florida and transported to a ring-down cell fashioned from standard stainless steel vacuum components. When a copper vapor laser operating at 10 kHz is employed, this arrangement allowed for nearly continuous monitoring of atmospheric extinction at 510 and 578 nm. We have characterized the system performance in terms of detection limit and dynamic range and also monitored a change in atmospheric extinction during a nearby wildfire and fireworks exhibition. The sensitivity and compatibility with automation of the technique renders it useful as a laboratory-based measurement of airborne particulate matter.