CORVALLIS, Ore. (KOIN) — At first glance, you might confuse the bracelet as a Livestrong band or any other stretchable “for-a-cause” wrist accessory. And, to a certain extent, you’d be right.
But these orange and black silicone polymer bracelets, embroidered with Oregon State’s name on them, are telling scientists and researchers at the university what chemicals are in the waters of the Houston-area after Hurricane Harvey.
“If you were to (buy a bracelet like this one) at the supermarket and wear one, they would actually collect samples,” said Kim Anderson, an environmental chemist at Oregon State.
Anderson said her group has been studying passive sampling for about 20 years, and now they’re using it for areas affected by Harvey. Anderson and some fellow researchers and students flew to Texas on Sept. 19 and distributed hundreds of the bracelets to partnering communities interested in learning more about chemicals in their water and what they may have been exposed to.
“It’s kind of a unique chemical exposure window,” Anderson said.
It’s also something Anderson and her team have been preparing a while for. They wanted to use the bracelets during the 2010 BP Oil Spill, but they couldn’t get approval from an institutional board review in time. Still, they got the product reviewed, to ensure it was safe for people to wear, just in case. With Harvey, another opportunity arose.
“We’ve always been preparing for an environmental disaster like the firemen and first respondents,” Anderson said, “but are were the second wave.”
Before they could distribute the bracelets, they had to see if people were interested. The response, Anderson said, was overwhelmingly positive. They partnered with Baylor and other local colleges to give the bracelets and study the samples, which were purified and sealed in air-tight bags to prevent any previous exposure.
Then, people wore the bracelets for 7 days so the researchers could see the difference in a work-day and an off-day in an environment with chemicals that could include pesticides, dioxins and PCBs, among others. Anderson also gave the bracelets, which can absorb up to 1,500 different chemicals, to different areas to see if chemicals moved with the water. They hope to repeat the process in 6 months and a year.
“We will be able to classify better about what was a hurricane-specific exposure event and what is a typical everyday exposure event,” said Dr. Lane Tidwell.
The samples have started making the trip back from Texas to Corvallis. With some of them, Anderson said, they’ve received thank you letters. People were thankful that someone took the time and was interested in studying the situation.
“Just the opportunity to have this mystery revealed to them and what chemicals were they being exposed to,” Holly Dixon, a gradate-student on Anderson’s team, said, “we heard so many thank yous the whole night we were there.”