Month: August 2016

LSU SRP Research Translation Core Engages Big Buddy Students in Environmental Health Investigations

The Louisiana State University Superfund Research Center Research Translation Core (LSU SRP RTC) would like to thank Big Buddy for sharing their summer with us.  Big Buddy is one of our research translation partners and LSU SRP RTC has provided outreach and education on environmental health topics to Big Buddy’s summer enrichment camps since 2014.  One of the highlights of the 2016 summer program was the opportunity to field test some new kits that focus on topics in environmental health science.  The development of the kits is a collaborative effort between Science Take-Out and researchers from the University of Rochester’s Environmental Health Sciences Center made possible by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).  None of the activities require special equipment and the lab tests have all been designed to use non-toxic chemicals.

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Left: LSU SRP Research Translation Coordinator Jen Irving discussed common sources of lead and the health effects of lead poisoning. Right: We used the Science Take-Out kit “Lead: An Element of Danger” to explore the health effects of lead.

We learned about how past practices contributed to widespread lead contamination in the United States, how current polices have reduced the amount of lead in our environment, what the health effects of lead poisoning are, and how to avoid exposure to lead.  The kids conducted a simulated blood lead test for a child with suspected lead poisoning and then tested samples of dust, soil, water, and pottery fragments for lead from the child’s home.  Based on the data gathered from our tests, we discussed what the family could do to reduce their exposure to lead.  We were also able to compare the information about the lead poisoning scenario in the kit with the real world lead contamination event occurring in Flint, Michigan.

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Left: Students tested simulated water samples for nitrates, coliform bacteria, and arsenic using the “Safe Water” kit. Right: The simulated tests showed that the family’s well water was contaminated with coliform bacteria and nitrates but that municipal tap water and bottled water were not.

We used the “Safe Water” and “A Case of Pesticide Poisoning” kits to explore the concept of how land use practices can impact both human and environmental health.  With the “Safe Water” kit, we conducted simulated water quality tests to determine if well water contamination was behind an infant’s failure to thrive.  The results of the tests indicated that the family’s well was contaminated with both nitrates and coliform bacteria.  We then discussed possible sources of the contamination, options for dealing with water contamination, and the pros and cons of using bottled water as a precaution.

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Left: Participants tested simulated urine for pesticide metabolites. Right: The components of the “A Case of Pesticide Poisoning” kit.

The activities in “A Case of Pesticide Poisoning” followed the same pattern as the other two kits:  a family starts to feel sick and the kids get to investigate what is causing the symptoms.  In this case, we explored some of the common pesticides used in the United States, where they are used (including the “foggers” used in homes to kill pests like roaches, fleas, and bed bugs), and how the improper use of pesticides can lead to problems.

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Left: LSU SRP Research Translation Core Leader Maud Walsh discussed the importance of reading product labels. Right: LSU SRP Undergraduate Trainee Grace LeBlanc helped Big Buddy participants “trap” the iron in cereal with hand-held magnets.

While the Science Take-Out kits were an exciting new addition to our summer enrichment program, we also used other hands-on activities to bring home some core concepts in environmental health science.  One of these is the idea that there are chemicals all around us, often added to the food we eat and the products we use, and it is the dosage and proper use of these items that determine its safety.  Iron added to cereal is great example of this.

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Left: Grace LeBlanc explained how to construct the lung simulator. Right: We used simulated lungs and particulate matter (talcum powder in squirt bottles) to explore how particulate pollution can enter the respiratory tract.

Since our Center focuses on the health effects of environmental persistent free radicals (EPFRs), which may be formed by combustion, no education or outreach program would be complete without some activities dedicated to air pollution and respiratory health.  LSU SRP undergraduate trainee Grace LeBlanc led hands-on activities that demonstrated how smoking harms the lungs and how fine particulate matter (PM) can enter the respiratory tract.

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Left: Participants built air pollution molecules with LEGOs™. Right: Students also created structures inspired by our exploration of environmental health science topics.

We were truly amazed by the types of questions these hands-on activities generated and hope to work with Big Buddy again soon!

Louisiana State University Superfund Research Center (LSU SRP) gets “LOST” Trackin’ Toxins with Louisiana 4-H!

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Trackin Toxins participants identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates they collected at Camp Grant Walker.

Members of the LSU SRP Research Translation Core (RTC) spent July 31 – August 3 at Louisiana Outdoor Science and Technology (LOST) Camp at Camp Grant Walker in Pollock, Louisiana.  LOST Camp is a special week of 4-H camp with a focus on science, engineering, and technology (SET) in addition to the more traditional camp tracks like Outdoor Adventures and Water Safety.  One of the goals behind offering these special sessions to 7th and 8th graders is to increase the number of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in SET areas.

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Left: LSU SRP undergraduate trainee Grace LeBlanc helps Trackin Toxins participants add “mystery” compounds to their model systems. Right: Campers measure the dose response of the mystery compounds on yeast.

The LSU SRP RTC developed the “Trackin’ Toxins” activities to introduce participants to the different disciplines of science that are involved in studying and developing solutions to complex environmental health problems, such as the Environmentally Persistent Free Radicals (EPFRs) our Center studies.  The track activities also provide an engaging way for kids to learn about environmental issues and how to avoid personal exposure to some common environmental toxins.  Our track covered topics including biomagnification of toxins through food webs, exposure to heavy metals such as lead, toxicity testing and dose response curves, assessing air and water pollution through biologic indicators, and the chemistry and health effects of air pollution.  Instead of sitting in a classroom and reading about these topics, our LOST campers were immersed in hands-on science activities:  collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates, using yeast as a model system to test the toxicity of “mystery” compounds, searching for pollution sensitive lichens, and trying to avoid polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in a simulated food web game.

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Left: LSU SRP undergraduate trainee Grace LeBlanc explaining the rules of the biomagnification game. Right: “Zooplankton” feeding on sediments contaminated with PCBs in the biomagnification game.

This is the second outreach activity that the LSU SRP has done in partnership with Louisiana 4-H this year.  One of the reasons Louisiana 4-H’s goal of exposing students to careers in SET is such a good fit with the LSU SRP RTC’s mission is that research at the LSU SRP truly reflects the interdisciplinary nature of environmental health science.    The LSU SRP brings together researchers from chemistry, pharmacology, environmental sciences, political science, and physics.  To learn about our research, our interdisciplinary team, and careers in environmental health science visit the LSU SRP website or click here.

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Left: Trackin Toxins participants conducting a simulated blood lead test. Right: LSU SRP RTC coordinator Jen Irving explaining that certain types of lichens don’t like pollution.