Sunday, November 17, 2013

MTU News: $1.45 Million Study to Address the Northbound Flow of Airborne Toxins

By Marcia Goodrich, Michigan Tech Magazine Editor
Posted November 13, 2013, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted in part with permission

Half of the people in Greenland have toxic levels of PCBs in their blood. A harmful cocktail of contaminants, including mercury and dioxin, has led to fish consumption advisories in all of the Great Lakes, including Superior.

Pollutants like these find their way north via a complex web of human and natural systems. Now, a team led by Michigan Technological University’s Judith Perlinger is working on a three-year project to better understand how those systems interact and find ways to address the problem.

The study partners include MIT, the Desert Research Institute and Boston University, as well as Michigan Tech. Funded by a $1.45 million grant from the National Science Foundation, they are focusing on three types of pollutants that have something in common: they leapfrog to their ultimate destination, hitching rides on atmospheric currents, landing back on Earth, and becoming airborne again, eventually concentrating in the north. The group will be studying mercury, polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Together, they are known as atmosphere-surface exchangeable pollutants, or ASEPs.

"There are thousands of ASEPs, and they get all over the Earth, even in places where they have never been used or produced," said Perlinger, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. "They stay in the environment for a long time, they tend to accumulate in people and wildlife, and as a result they can be very toxic, even though they are present at low concentrations in the environment."

There’s a disconnect between where ASEPs are made and used and where they end up, which makes their regulation challenging. ... Click here to read the rest of this article on the Michigan Tech News.
Photo inset: Judith Perlinger, Michigan Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering and study team leader. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

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