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Case Western Reserve researchers looking at light-induced toxins in air and water
Date:2/17/2009

Is the air we breathe on a daily basis slowly killing us?

It may not be that severe, but the air we breathe and water we drink may be more harmful than we realize.

Toxic nitro-aromatic pollutants (or nitro-polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), both manmade and naturally occurring, continue to be emitted into the air and are present in food, water systems, soils and sediments, says Carlos Crespo, the Case Western Reserve University chemistry assistant professor whose research team is studying how ultraviolet-visible light interacts with and transforms these compounds under controlled laboratory settings.

The goal of his group is to assess the physical and chemical consequences of sunlight absorption by these pollutants in the environment. In particular, the Crespo research group wants to know the relaxation pathways used by these pollutants to redistribute the excess electronic energy gained when they absorb light and how this energy is used to transform these compounds into other harmful compounds or products. Their work is being funded by a $100,000 grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.

"Degradation by sunlight is thought to be the main route of natural removal of nitro-aromatic compounds from the environment. Consequently, understanding how the absorption of light transforms these compounds holds the key for predicting their environmental fate and for designing effective pollution control strategies," says Crespo.

He added, "These relatively small compounds are formed primarily through incomplete combustion processes, like municipal incinerators, motor vehicles and power plants."

While these compounds do occur naturally in the environment, through actions like volcanic eruptions or forest fires, the use of fossil fuels increases the amount emitted into the atmosphere, increasing exposure to their harmful effects.

"Epidemiological studies show that exposure to diese
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Contact: Jason A. Tirotta
jason.tirotta@case.edu
216-368-6890
Case Western Reserve University
Source:Eurekalert

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