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IU researchers to use bracelets to study health risks in coal communities

Oct. 19, 2016

To investigate the link between environmental chemical exposure and adverse health effects, four Indiana University researchers are planning to use a tool similar to what millions of Americans wear on their wrists.

Marta Venier with wristband

Researcher Marta Venier displays a silicone bracelet of the type that will be used in the study. | PHOTO BY INDIANA UNIVERSITY

Michael Hendryx of the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, Jessica Gall Myrick of The Media School, and Marta Venier and Amina Salamova of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs have been awarded a $470,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine the relationship between coal mining in the Appalachian region and health problems in the people living there. The researchers plan to use silicone bracelets, often worn to show support for a cause or sold as a fundraiser, to gather information for their study.

Venier and Salamova, both research scientists at SPEA, have done extensive research into the persistence of flame-retardant chemicals in the environment. They’ve used passive sampling in their research before, but the wristbands will be a new way for them to learn about their subjects’ environments.

After learning of a pioneering study by Oregon State University’s Kim Anderson that showed the wristbands are capable of absorbing more than 1,000 different chemicals, the researchers decided to incorporate them into the study.

The researchers will seek to learn whether people who live in coal-mining communities are exposed to pollutants associated with increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

The convenience factor is one of the bracelets’ greatest benefits. “They’re noninvasive; you just wear a bracelet,” Venier said. She also said the “equipment” is quite inexpensive.

Myrick is developing a plan to communicate the results to health and safety professionals and to residents in the coal mining region. “We want to tell them what the bracelets tell us so that they can take appropriate action,” Myrick said.

Hendryx said the use of the bracelets struck him as potentially influential.

“Not many people anywhere in the country have tried using this approach,” he said. “I think the approach may have much larger potential than our current application; it could be applied to a variety of possible exposure environments for other populations.”

The research planned on health risks in coal communities aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a catalyzing research and improving the state and nation's health.

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