Huntsville, Ala. ---- Every day, individuals breathe in thousands of microscopic particles that, thanks to the resilience of the human body and its lungs, have no effect on their health and overall well-being. However, three researchers at Alabama A&M University are earnestly trying to determine if significant exposure
to certain airborne nanoparticles may ultimately harm us. Thus, they are focusing on members of one of society’s most important vocations—truck drivers.
Physicists Michael Curley and Tatiana Kukhtarev have teamed with transportation expert Jacob Oluwoye on an interesting project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Although the two AAMU physicists acknowledge that nanoparticles have numerous positive applications, including assistance in drug delivery, they also admit that other nanoparticles, especially those produced through various manufacturing processes, could adversely affect health.
Transportation guru Oluwoye, for his part, is relying on the physicists’ expertise to develop reliable sensors to determine if and at which level nanoparticles from diesel fuel are finding their way into the nostrils and lungs of truck drivers.
Oluwoye interviewed 25 Birmingham-area truck drivers and, based on their self-reported answers and the data from preliminary sensor development, has reason to believe that the semi operators have been significantly exposed to diesel exhaust (e.g., coughs and phlegm, irritation of eyes, nose, throat and lungs). Further studies could indicate some correlation between continued exposure to diesel exhaust and current and potential ailments within the respiratory system.
Curley and Kukhtarev maintain that even in the present day, information on hazards from exposure to certain airborne nanoparticles is “scanty or non-existent.” But Oluwoye is confident that the team’s research could help close the data gap and even offer broader applications. These uses could, for instance, include the expansion of sensory tests, prevention guides and the control of exposure to nanoparticles among passengers of diesel vehicles.
For additional information about the team’s project, please contact Dr. Oluwoye at (256) 372-4994; Dr. Michael Curley at (256) 372-8236; or Dr. Kukhtarev at (256) 272-8118.
- Jerome Saintjones