Dr. John Volckens, a Professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, recently received $2.5 million in two grants from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to measure industrial dust particles that can cause health problems.
Dr. Volckens plans to develop a dust spectrometer that will capture and measure inhalable dust – about the size of flour dust – before it settles. He’ll also create an inexpensive, lightweight device that workers can wear on their shoulders to immediately sample their exposure. The effort builds on a current project Dr. Volckens has with Dr. Stephen Reynolds, Director of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at CSU. Local dairy and feedlot industries are lending support to the project.
“If you took a handful of flour and threw it into the air, it would settle on the ground and you could see it – we don’t have good means to measure those inhalable particles accurately to give companies and workers information about their exposure,” said Dr. Volckens. “They’re the same types of particles that make your eyes itchy, your throat itchy. They deposit in your nose and mouth and you swallow them, so they can become a big problem. Exposures that last one to two minutes can affect you for hours or days. And workers that get exposed to these clouds every day might have long-term effects. That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to prevent – we’re trying to prevent disease over the working lifetime of individuals.
Another issue Dr. Volckens will address with the grants is lowering the cost of current exposure tests, which are cost-prohibitive for most companies. He wants to create a simple test that anyone can use. For this aspect of the research he is partnering with Dr. Chuck Henry, a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State.
“We want that sample test to be under $1,” said Dr. Volckens. “The process now can cost hundreds of dollars to even take a single measurement, and it’s inhibiting our ability to find out where there are exposure problems in industry. We want to revolutionize the field by letting anyone take a sample. This research will really increase our reach to find hazards and protect people.”
Dr. Volckens is collaborating on the project with colleagues at the University of Iowa and the University of Utah. Scientists at the University of Iowa will run computer models to design a dust sampler that best mimics particle inhalation into the human nose and mouth. In Utah, they’ll evaluate the design in a state-of-the-art aerosol wind tunnel before moving into the field to test these technologies in various industrial settings.