Student Digs Into Couch Cushions For Asthma Triggers

couchA student research project funded by the EPA is looking in the most unlikely places for triggers to diseases like asthma: furniture cushions.

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Jon McKinney, a junior at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is helping to develop the science of building forensics by identifying the chemical fingerprints of foam components present in common furniture items.

He hopes to help inform epidemiologists in their search for the sources of indoor environmental pollution that contribute to asthma and other disorders.

“You can choose what water you drink. You can choose what you eat. But you can’t choose what air you breathe. This work combines nature, ecology and chemistry – all the things I like.” – McKinney

Dr. Glenn Morrison, associate professor of environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is working with McKinney to sample household items such as furniture, concrete, and drywall to further the knowledge-base of environmental engineering.

“Our goal is to identify what’s happened inside a home based on the ‘unique fingerprints’ of the chemicals we find.” – McKinney

If the pair is successful, their techniques will make it simpler to reliably identify the chemical causes for many diseases linked to indoor air pollution.

Because of the recent push for energy efficiency through ‘sealing the envelope’ of homes, indoor ventilation has been reduced, which contributes to the buildup of possibly toxic substances inside the living space. Americans spend an estimated 90% of their time inside, being exposed to indoor air pollution from sources as diverse as personal care products, home furnishings, paints, and cleaning supplies.

Some experts believe that the air found inside people’s homes can be more hazardous to their health than smog and other pollutants they are exposed to while outside the home. Indoor air pollution has been linked to various negative health effects, especially for children, seniors, and those with weak immune systems.

Prior to receiving the $45,000 fellowship from the EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities program, McKinney’s research was funded through Morrison’s National Science Foundation CAREER award.

Image: keko at Flickr under Creative Commons

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