Oregon State University researchers have developed a wristband that can be used for research into pollution, the university announced Tuesday.

The silicone bands are similar to wristbands worn to support various causes, such as the pink plastic bands worn to promote breast cancer awareness. But these bands are designed to be porous, so that they can absorb vaporous chemicals. Researchers later can test the wrist bands to see what chemicals they’ve absorbed — and thus track what chemicals their wearers were exposed to.

In an OSU experiment, 30 people wore the wristbands for a month, and in their wristbands researchers detected 50 chemical compounds — including flame retardants, pesticides, caffeine and nicotine.

Steven G. O’Connell, an OSU doctoral candidate in the toxicology department, was an author of an article about the research, which was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in February.

“We wanted to develop passive sampling and adapt it for personal use,” he said.

O’Connell and Kim Anderson, a professor in the college of agriculture sciences, worked together to develop the concept for the wristbands.

O’Connell said Tuesday that the wristbands are lower in cost and more convenient for research participants to wear than traditional active-sampling devices, which typically are a large backpack with fans.

By lowering the cost and making the data collection easier, O’Connell said, studies investigating pollution using the wristbands could have more participants, which will give results more validity.

He added that another reason the wristbands are a good way to measure chemical exposure is because they absorb only chemicals in vaporous forms, which also are more easily absorbed by human bodies.

According to O’Connell, traditional backpack fan samplers also pick up particulate pollution, some of which are big enough that the body’s natural filters would prevent its absorption. The wristbands allow researchers to home in on “bio-accessible” chemicals.

O’Connell, who has focused his studies on environmental chemistry, said that a number of researchers are in contact with Anderson about using the bands in their own studies. He said ongoing studies using the bands include research into the chemicals that pregnant women are exposed to in their last trimester, and into pesticide risks facing farmers in West Africa.

According to an OSU press release, the university could make 400 of the wristbands in a week.

O’Connell said the current bottleneck is the processing time of the sample in the laboratory, but the OSU researchers are investigating ramping up the process.

The bands are not yet available to the public, but Anderson’s lab is recruiting people for upcoming studies using the bands. Project proposals from citizen scientists also are being accepted, at http://citizen.science.oregonstate.edu.

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Anthony Rimel covers K-12 education. He can be reached at 541-758-9526 or anthony.rimel@lee.net.