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Study by EOH faculty and MPH student yields new understanding of local air pollution

C O P H Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Instructor Marie Cecile Chalbot, P h D and Student Joeline Brown at S W F D C 2014 Poster ShowcaseA faculty member in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) at the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health (COPH) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and a student in the COPH’s Master’s in Public Health program, presented findings of a new study on air pollution in Little Rock at the 2014 Women in Research Poster Showcase on Oct. 30 at the Jackson T. Stephens Spine Institute.

The study contributes to the understanding of how atmospheric chemicals interact and affect human health and demonstrated the utility of a technology rarely used to analyze organic compounds in the air.

Marie-Cecile Chalbot, PhD, Instructor in EOH, was the principal investigator on the two-year study, and Ms. Joeline Brown served as her assistant on the project, “Atmospheric Organic Aerosol Characterization by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy.” The poster also featured the findings of related research by Dr. Chalbot and her EOH colleague, Associate Professor Ilias Kavouras, PhD.

The study was done in collaboration with the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Ark., Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., and University of Arkansas Stable Isotopes Laboratory in Fayetteville, Ark.

For Ms. Brown, the opportunity to work on a research project with faculty has been a great learning experience.

“Working with Dr. Chalbot and Dr. Kavouras has allowed me to apply classes from my undergrad that I thought I would never use,” Ms. Brown said. “Organic chemistry seemed like just another difficult class when I was younger. I didn’t see any practical application for it in my life’s goal of improving people’s health. Now, I know that through methods I learned in O-chem, we can predict and potentially prevent disease. Applying my knowledge has been an enriching and motivating experience.”

The poster presentation was the culmination of a two-year study in which air samples were collected every two weeks to gather data on water-soluble organic aerosols from various sources – different soils types, wood combustion, traffic and paved road dust, as well as pollen and substances from tree bark.

Spectroscopic signatures of each type of particle were created, which were used as a basis for identification of the various particles in the air samples.

“Traffic particles were all black from the exhaust,” Dr. Chalbot said.

The study provided new information about certain atmospheric pollutants present in Central Arkansas, for which monitoring is not routinely done. It also counters a prevailing notion that Arkansas air is relatively clean as compared to other urban areas, yet, there are some unique characteristics.

The analysis showed a significant amount of particles from burning wood and other organic matter, a common practice in Arkansas.

The study also demonstrated the effectiveness of using a particular type of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for analysis of the organic aerosol compounds. The technology made possible the identification of a much broader range of particles than possible with customary methods. It also provided a more complete picture of each type of particle.

The study will be ongoing. In addition, the data from the study will be used in further analyses by Dr. Chalbot, Dr. Kavouras, and Igor Koturbash, PhD, Assistant Professor in EOH, and Isabelle Racine Miousse, PhD, post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Koturbash’s lab, to understand the health effects of the organic aerosol compounds present in Central Arkansas.

“We want to know what kind of epigenetic and cytotoxic effects the particles are responsible for,” Dr. Chalbot said.

Ultimately, the new scientific knowledge coming from this body of work by UAMS EOH researchers could inform regulations and policies.