sealPurdue Science and Health Briefs

August 1999

Employee training reduces levels of styrene pollution

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Engineers at Purdue University have shown in preliminary findings that pollution associated with styrene could be reduced by more than 40 percent by instructing workers on the best techniques for applying styrene-based materials.

The research at Purdue is part of an effort to help companies comply with federal environmental guidelines for emissions of styrene, a chemical compound used to make fiber-reinforced plastics for products such as recreational vehicles, boats and shower stalls.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has changed how it estimates the annual quantity of styrene that a company emits, in effect doubling its estimates of emission levels. That could make it more difficult to meet federal and state air pollution requirements, says James R. Noonan, assistant director for education and technical assistance of the Indiana Clean Manufacturing Technology and Safe Materials Institute at Purdue.

The emission statistics for 1998 will be the first to reflect the higher levels. They will be released by state, federal and industry sources over the next year.

The employee-training program was conceived by a national organization called the Composites Fabricators Association, but its pollution-reduction benefits had not been documented until the Purdue engineers conducted tests using specialized equipment built at the institute.

Workers who use spray guns to coat molds with a liquid that contains styrene are taught techniques to cut down on styrene emissions. For example, they are schooled in different ways of setting up their work to minimize the amount of spraying needed for the job. They also learn new approaches to spraying in which the individual droplets of styrene are larger, ultimately reducing the overall quantity exposed to the air, and, consequently, decreasing emissions, says Jean Hall, a Purdue engineer involved in the work.

The Purdue institute has been gathering data and conducting tests since March to analyze just how effective the training program is. The preliminary data showed that using these techniques reduced styrene emissions by 21.7 percent, and reduced the overall quantity of styrene needed to do the job by 19 percent.

The combined effect of both reductions is a 42.4 percent decrease in emissions, Noonan says.

Purdue engineers will conduct further tests at the institute's Coating Applications Research Laboratory before issuing a final report.

Styrene, a suspected carcinogen, has been used for decades to manufacture everything from drinking cups to lightweight auto and boat parts. It has been classified by EPA as a volatile organic compound, meaning it tends to combine with other chemicals to form entirely new compounds. One result is the creation of ozone, a molecule that contains three atoms of oxygen instead of the environmentally friendly two-atom form of the gas. Ozone is a pollutant that is unhealthy to breathe and is thought to be harmful to vegetation and wildlife.

It should not be confused with naturally occurring atmospheric ozone, contained in the stratosphere, which acts as a filter for harmful ultraviolet radiation.

CONTACT: Noonan, (765) 463-4749,

An apple a day: Pre-med focuses on nutrition

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Future medical students are biting into the old adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" by learning about nutrition's role in preventive medicine.

Students studying to become doctors and dentists are majoring in nutrition science at universities such as Purdue to understand how food interacts with the human body. The four-year program in Purdue's Department of Foods and Nutrition prepares the students for eligibility to apply to medical, dental or graduate school.

"Traditionally, physicians have been trained to heal disease after it already exists, relying mainly on dietitians to advise patients on lifestyle decisions," says Connie Weaver, head of Purdue's department and president of the American Society of Nutrition Sciences. "Unfortunately, escalating health-care costs and the increasing influence of managed health care have led to a lessening of the role dietitians play in the patient's treatment process."

These factors have sparked an effort toward providing more nutrition-related training in medical schools. "Little wonder that students who already have a nutrition science bachelor's degree are in demand by medical and dental schools," Weaver says.

A nutrition science program, such as Purdue's, requires courses in nutrition, methods of nutrition investigation, quantitative analysis, biology of man, organic chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, and statistics.

Paula Shireman, a 1986 Purdue graduate who is a general surgery resident at Northwestern University in Chicago, says Purdue's program was great preparation for medical school. "Many of my patients are unable to eat and need alternate forms of feeding," Shireman says. "Purdue's program provided in-depth knowledge of patient dietary needs and ways to supply these essential nutrients."

Unlike graduates of many traditional pre-medicine programs, however, students with a degree in nutrition science who decide not to enter medical or dental school after graduation can readily find government research jobs and employment in the food industry, Weaver says.

"We've seen our students placed in many industry jobs including Kraft, M&M/Mars, General Mills and Con Agra. Combining nutrition science with a dietetics curriculum increases job opportunities as well," she says. "The average annual starting salary for our graduating nutrition majors is approximately $34,000."

CONTACT: Weaver; (765) 494-8231;

Company aims to deliver information in a heartbeat

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Lafayette company that has developed portable heart monitors is working alongside Purdue University researchers to deliver patient information directly to the doctor's office.

Technology Transfer Inc. has set up shop in the new Purdue Technology Center to continue development on a device that, when pressed lightly against the chest, measures electrical patterns in the heart. These patterns can be printed out on a special printer and then faxed or e-mailed to a doctor.

"At the Purdue Technology Center, we plan to complete an engineering prototype of a telecommunications modem that will enable the heart rhythm information to be phoned straight to the doctor's office," said Hans Naumann, president and chief executive officer of Technology Transfer.

The company's pocket-sized electrocardiograph, called PAM (Personal Arrhythmia Monitor), was developed and patented by the Purdue Research Foundation and two Purdue professors of biomedical engineering, Leslie Geddes and Neal Fearnot.

PAM is marketed primarily to home health-care specialists and veterinarians. The device is being promoted as an efficient tool for heart monitoring not only for patients with heart diseases, but also for diabetics, drug therapy, drug detection, health physicals and general health of homebound patients.

Technology Transfer Inc. moved into its new headquarters June 29. "Entering the Purdue Technology Center allows our company to be closer to Purdue and its Hillenbrand Biomedical Engineering Center," Naumann said.

The company is working to develop a smaller version of the device that will include high-resolution displays, and improved data storage and communication capacities. The device may someday be able to monitor other functions, including blood-glucose, blood pressure, oxygenation, and body temperature and metabolic rate, Naumann said.

The Purdue Research Park, which opened in 1961, is home to 81 companies. The Technology Center there offers marketing, accounting, public relations and business strategy assistance for high-tech startup companies.

CONTACT: Naumann, (800) 457-9797; (765) 494-0887;

Compiled by Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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