LSU Professor and Patrick F. Taylor Chair of Chemistry Barry Dellinger was recently awarded a grant of $3.6 million by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, or NIEHS, to support a Superfund Research Center focusing on hazardous waste disposal and its impact on public health. It is the only center ever awarded by this program that is not located at a medical school or school of public health.
"This grant is the result of a highly competitive process," said Dellinger, who serves as director of the center. "It forges a research partnership with LSU and its Health Sciences Centers in both New Orleans and Shreveport."
LSU's Superfund Research Center, supported with NIEHS dollars generated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will look into the health effects of toxic combustion products. Combustion, or burning, was once the primary means of disposal for hazardous waste.
"The problem is that burning something doesn't completely get rid of it," said Dellinger. "It leaves behind lots of small particles, many of which are nanoscale in size."
Because of this fact, Dellinger, who in the past assisted the Environmental Protection Agency with developing its toxic waste disposal guidelines, said that the group's sub-focus will look at the role of combustion-related nanoparticles to determine if they have special and perhaps more harmful properties because of their size.
The group will also study environmentally-persistent free radicals, or EPFRs, which are a specialty of Dellinger's and a potentially revolutionary concept for scientists.
"Environmentally-persistent free radicals are essentially incomplete molecules that we believe are actually how many pollutants truly exist within the environment when they are attached to fine particles," said Dellinger. "Other researchers assume that the pollutants exist as molecules rather than radicals."
If the research group can prove this theory, it will essentially wipe the scientific slate clean and clear the path for a completely new avenue of research.
"We're hoping that we can convey the importance of these radicals and encourage epidemiological studies on the subject," said Dellinger.