Study Focuses On How Plants Help Toxic Pollutants Travel Around The World

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The "grasshopper" nature of chemical transport in the environment will be the focus of tests to be conducted by a UB researcher to determine how plants contribute to the global distribution of toxic organic pollutants.

Keri C. Hornbuckle, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil engineering at UB, has received a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of temperature, humidity and ultraviolet light on the transport through the atmosphere of persistent organic pollutants.

The project, which has been funded with a $200,000 award over four years by the NSF's Faculty Early Career Development program, will examine how chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pesticides, including DDT, travel around the world.

"My primary interest is how and why concentrations of persistent organic pollutants change as a function of weather conditions," Hornbuckle said.

From research she already has conducted, she added, it appears that concentrations of these chemicals -- probable endocrine disrupters that can cause reproductive harm -- are highest during the warmest part of the day and lowest during the coolest. Hornbuckle hopes her research will show how these chemicals adsorb and volatilize to plant surfaces, "similar to the condensation and evaporation of water," she said.

Testing will take place in a 600-cubic-meter facility located in Ashford, N.Y., south of Buffalo. Owned and maintained by Calspan SRL Corp., the environmental test chamber is one of the largest such facilities in the United States. According to Hornbuckle, retrofitting of the facility will begin this fall, followed by two years of testing.

Originally designed as a military ordnance test facility, the interior of the chamber measures 9 meters in diameter and 9 meters high -- as tall as a three-story building.

"It had been sitting empty

Contact: Christine Vidal
University at Buffalo

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