The hunt for household hazards

Many researchers believe the air inside your home can be more hazardous to your health than the smog and other environmental pollutants you are exposed to outside, says Jon McKinney, a junior in environmental engineering at Missouri S&T.

Jon McKinney (left) and Glenn Morrison are finding chemical ‘fingerprints’ to improve indoor air quality.

McKinney is developing a testing method to use in “building forensics,” an emerging field that lies at the outer edge of environmental engineering. He’s working with Glenn Morrison, associate professor of environmental engineering, to help epidemiologists identify what triggers diseases like asthma in children, and he’s got the backing of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Our goal is to identify what’s happened inside a home based on the ‘unique fingerprints’ of the chemicals we find,” says McKinney. He and Morrison are using nondestructive techniques to take samples from couch cushions, drywall and even concrete to identify the concentration of chemicals that had been in the home. If successful, the technique would make it easier for scientists to reliably identify the chemical causes for many diseases.
The problem of indoor pollution has escalated in recent years. That’s because today’s homes are more energy efficient with less natural ventilation, which results in a buildup of potentially harmful substances in the air.
“You can choose what water you drink. You can choose what you eat. But you can’t choose what air you breathe,” says McKinney, explaining his interest in the field. “This work combines nature, ecology and chemistry – all the things I like.”
The EPA estimates Americans spend roughly 90 percent of their time indoors, and indoor air pollution – caused by sources ranging from paints, cleaning solvents and personal care products to furnishings – has been linked to a wide variety of adverse health effects.
Many people don’t realize the amount of chemicals they introduce into their homes every day. For example, dry-cleaned clothes can emit perchloroethylene, a chemical that has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Studies indicate that people breathe low levels of this chemical in homes where dry-cleaned goods are stored.
McKinney is currently establishing the “fingerprint” of chemicals in the type of foam materials that are commonly present in furniture cushions.
McKinney of Kansas City, Mo., a junior in environmental engineering at Missouri S&T, is receiving more than $45,000 to support his education and research through the EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities Research Fellowship. Prior to receiving the fellowship, McKinney received funding for his research through Morrison’s National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which recognizes a young researcher’s dual commitment to scholarship and education.

Around the Puck

Generous partners complete ACML fundraising

Thanks to an investment from the University of Missouri System, major gifts from industry partners and alumni support, S&T will break ground on the Advanced Construction and Materials Laboratory (ACML) on Oct. 12, during Homecoming weekend.

[Read More...]

Alumni help with sesquicentennial planning

Seven alumni, including three Miner Alumni Association board members, have been named to Missouri S&T’s sesquicentennial advisory committee. The group is made up of graduates, students, faculty, staff and community members who are involved in planning the university’s upcoming 150th anniversary celebration.

[Read More...]

Using big data to reduce childbirth risks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, complications during pregnancy or childbirth affect more than 50,000 women annually, and about 700 of them die every year. Steve Corns, associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering, is working with researchers from Phelps County Regional Medical Center through the Ozarks Biomedical Initiative to reduce […]

[Read More...]

Bogan solves Benton mural mystery

Missouri State Capitol muralist Thomas Hart Benton wrote in his memoir about being called into then-Gov. Guy Park’s office and told that a prominent St. Louis politician objected to Benton’s portrayal of black people, especially depictions of slavery.

[Read More...]

Breaking bias

According to Jessica Cundiff, assistant professor of psychological science at S&T, women who consider careers in the physical sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are deterred by stereotypes that impose barriers on the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in STEM.

[Read More...]