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Professor inspired by time at EPA

Joe Graney, an associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, is on an 11-month sabbatical/Title F leave assignment at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He received a $70,000 grant from the EPA to support this visiting scientist effort.

It has been inspirational working within a cluster of buildings where science and its impact on policy decisions are visible on a daily basis.

The NERL facility contains several branches, including the Environmental Characterization and Apportionment Branch (where I am working) as well as Human Exposure, Exposure Modeling, Atmospheric Sciences and Air-Surface Processes Modeling Branches (and others).

Within the same complex are research labs for the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory. Much of the work in those labs focuses on toxicology from cellular, molecular, pulmonary and neurobehavioral perspectives.

The building joining the two research labs contains offices where national environmental policy is generated from indoor and outdoor air pollution perspectives.

My wife, Dawn, and I have found that living in a snow-free winter within NASCAR and Atlantic Coast Conference basketball country has been an experience quite a bit different than we are used to in upstate New York.

I have also had an opportunity to work with and reestablish connections at Research Triangle Park with alumni from the University of Michigan who share my air-quality interests.

The construction of the buildings and grounds on which this research complex is located has been an eye-opener.

The facility has received awards for the use of green building techniques. This includes extensive use of natural lighting, passive solar heating and high durability building materials. Outside, walking and running routes, some composed of pervious materials, encircle a lake that was designed to capture stormwater runoff from the research complex. The roadways into the complex are illuminated by a solar-powered lighting array.

My daily activities involve working with an interdisciplinary team from the EPA on projects related to improving our understanding of how mercury and metal emissions are dispersed through the environment.

Much of my work as a “lab rat” involves devising analytical protocols for use in source apportionment. Source apportionment refers to development of methods to discriminate between multiple sources of pollutants within a complex mixture of natural and anthropogenic particles.

Such efforts are needed when assessing how longterm, low-level exposure to pollutants results in cumulative health effects.

To do this work, we are investigating the elemental composition and bioavailability of metals in aerosol samples. This requires X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and High Resolution Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (HR-ICPMS) techniques. Both of these techniques can be used to quantify small amounts of numerous elements quickly (minutes per sample).

This work takes place in clean room environments, similar to those used in microelectronics fabrication.

This has been a great experience, and I encourage others to explore possibilities at federal research facilities during time spent away from the University.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08