By Morgan Petronelli
People come into contact with a multitude of chemicals and toxins that they may or may not be aware of on a daily basis. But, what if there was a way to see exactly what a person comes into contact with?
Kim Anderson, an environmental and molecular toxicology professor from Oregon State University, spoke to Youngstown State University students and community members via Skype on Nov. 1 as a part of an annual science lecture series organized by YSU geology professor Ray Beiersdorfer.
In the lecture, Anderson discussed her invention of the MyExposome wristband. The creation is a silicon bracelet that acts as a sponge and is able to measure chemical exposures that the wearer comes into contact with. Along with her students, she conducted studies in Ohio, Oregon, New York, Peru and Africa.
A conjoint study was done by The Ohio State University utilizing the wristbands, which took a look at the chemicals Texas residents were exposed to during Hurricane Harvey.
Anderson said before the wristbands, stationary monitors were used, but that they were a poor estimate of the chemicals individuals were exposed to. She said since people do not stay in one place, they can be exposed to different chemicals in different environments and scenarios. She said this situation sparks the need for a more mobile and discrete device that could be utilized for sampling.
“We developed what we call Passive Sampling Devices (PSD). The first ones were developed actually at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). But we, as well as others, built upon that technology,” Anderson said.
She said the first PSD she used was a necklace, but she first came up with the idea of using the wristbands after seeing football players wearing them. Since then, the MyExposome wristbands have been sent out across the globe to collect samples.
Once the wristbands are sent back to Oregon State for testing, a solvent is used to extract over 1500 possible chemicals from the wristbands, which are then looked over and recorded.
During Hurricane Harvey, Anderson and her researchers wanted to test the theory that Houston was a toxic soup after torrential flooding took over the city.
“Certainly, this is what we call a unique chemical exposure after one of these disasters. So, we wanted to get into the community, if there was interest, and participate in trying to find if we can use our technology and test our approach,” Anderson said.
One of the roughly 35 attendees of the lecture was Jason Lee, a YSU graduate student and science teacher at Howland High School. Lee is currently working on his second master’s degree in environmental science, with his first master’s degree in biology.
Lee said he took a 30-day trip to China with Beiersdorfer, who encouraged him to attend the lecture.
“It was a long time, but it was amazing. I’m taking a class with Dr. Armstrong this semester and a lot of the research we are doing deals with lead contamination, so it was just an interesting topic to me,” Lee said.
Beiersdorfer said he first became aware of Anderson’s research when fracking reports came out about Carroll County.
“The lecture series is about energy and the environment, and [Anderson] was monitoring exposures of these pollutants in Carroll County. I was familiar with work that had been done in Colorado that showed that people who lived within half a mile of a fracking well were getting exposed to hazardous levels of carcinogens and neurotoxins in the air.”
Beiersdorfer said this lecture was a part of the lecture series’ theme, but it is not the only thing it focuses on. He said they have had speakers talk about sustainable energy and renewables.
“We are essentially looking at the harm and then looking at the solutions,” Beiersdorfer said.
According to Beiersdorfer, the next lecture should occur after Martin Luther King Day.