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Trouble in the air?

student in front of a microscope

Katherine Phetxumphou, a graduate student on Dietrich's research team, performs odor measurements using equipment available in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering.

Credit: Andrea M. Dietrich


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Tanks at Freedom Industries chemical storage site showing an aging infrastructure

The spill originated from a storage facility for chemicals owned by Freedom Industries, which used MCHM to remove impurities from coal that would contribute to pollution during combustion. The human health effects of exposure to MCHM include nausea, vomiting, headaches and rashes. Immediately following the spill, NSF's (RAPID) grant brought in the expertise of the research community to study the chemical properties of MCHM.

Credit: Foo Conner, https://www.flickr.com/people/iwasaround/. Distributed under the Creative Commons license.


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peeople unloading bottled water from truck to a storage place

Residents detected the licorice odor of MCHM for months after the water supply was declared safe for consumption. "Throughout the crisis, the severe lack of reliable data for chemical, toxicological and odor properties resulted in confusion for everyone from utility and government officials to residents," observed Dietrich. The NSF RAPID grant was designed to generate critically needed data for MCHM properties.

Credit: Foo Conner, https://www.flickr.com/people/iwasaround/. Distributed under the Creative Commons license.


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