Director’s Intramural Awards for Extraordinary Science (DIA) Updates for 2012

Distinguished Career Scientist:

The Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART) aerosol group was honored to accept the 2010 NIOSH Director’s Award for Extraordinary Intramural Science on behalf of Dr. Paul Baron, recipient of the Distinguished Career Scientist Award ($10,000), awarded posthumously in 2010. Paul was a long-time member of this group, which develops, investigates and applies methods to characterize and monitor aerosols, including nanoscale aerosols. Since the Award in 2010, the group has conducted multiple investigations on fine, ultrafine, and nanomaterial aerosols, with substantial accomplishments. Two activities, supported in part by Dr. Baron’s Award, include:

  • Research on new instrumentation for determination of elements in aerosols, based on laser induced breakdown spectroscopy, and
  • Field research to monitor fine and ultrafine particles during structural fire suppression training exercises at the Illinois Fire Service Institute, in partnership with the Chicago Fire Department.

Exposure to aerosols containing toxic metals from industrial activities such as mining, welding, cutting, brazing, and soldering poses a significant occupational health risk worldwide. In the United States, an estimated 800,000 full-time and 1-2 million part-time workers are routinely exposed to metals. Metal exposure is associated with respiratory and neurological effects, and several metals are carcinogenic. Existing methods for measurement of particulate metal involve filter-based collection, followed by laboratory analysis. These methods suffer from the following drawbacks: a) results represent an average over several hours and do not capture high-level, short-term exposures typical of many mining operations, hot manufacturing processes, welding fumes, and combustion plumes, and b) they are time- and resource-intensive, requiring sample collection, shipment, and preparation steps.

A portable, direct-reading instrument capable of simultaneous monitoring of multiple elements within a few seconds or minutes can considerably improve measurement of acute, high-intensity exposures. This in turn, can substantially improve our ability to identify and mitigate workplace hazards. Direct-reading, semi-continuous instruments are available for measurement of chemical composition of aerosol particles, but most are large, bulky, and expensive, making them unsuitable for routine exposure measurement. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and similar techniques are increasingly being used for field applications because they have clear advantages with respect to portability, robustness, and simplicity; however, these techniques have found limited application to aerosol measurement. The main drawbacks of existing LIBS technology for aerosol analysis relate to: 1) poor measurement accuracy and precision, 2) high detection limits, 3) poor sampling statistics or poor time resolution, and 4) unreliable calibration.

In our current study, we address these drawbacks using a new approach for aerosol collection and analysis. The approach utilizes advantages offered by a unique aerosol collection technique and LIBS analysis, and allows reliable measurements of metal exposure as well as effective on-site decision making. It can also be applied to nonmetals of interest, in the workplace or other settings, thus extending its importance and utility. Pilot studies on a direct-reading instrument for determining the elemental composition of aerosols were completed in FY11. A successful FY12 NORA proposal will support continued research and development, to be conducted in partnership with external collaborators. A paper on the pilot LIBS research was among those nominated by NIOSH for the 2012 CDC Charles C. Shepard Award (Diwakar, Kulkarni, and Birch, 2012 –see publications below).

Since the 2010 Award we also have been conducting collaborative field research with the Division of Surveillance, Hazard evaluations, and Field studies to monitor firefighters’ exposures to fine and ultrafine particles during structural fire suppression training exercises at the Illinois Fire Service Institute, along with the Chicago Fire Department. Earlier work was focused on vehicle fire suppression with the Miami Township Fire Department (Ohio) (see publications below). Reducing the incidence of chronic and acute diseases that may relate to occupational exposures to heat, combustion products, and other stressors is an Institute goal. A further goal is to develop evidence-based interventions. To achieve this goal, field research to characterize exposures and exposure routes (e.g., inhalation, dermal) of chemicals and particulates are necessary. Preliminary findings indicated that self-contained breathing apparatus should be worn throughout fire suppression, requiring changes in work and training practices for fire crews. Firefighter exposure assessment is a high priority for the NORA Public Safety Subsector. The firefighters’ exposure studies resulted in a journal article, a trade article, and an HHE report.

Related Publications (FY11-12)

There were also 12 related presentations during FY11-12 that are available upon request through Eileen Birch, Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART).

Early Career Scientist:

Since receiving the 2010 Director’s Award for Extraordinary Intramural Science in the category of Early Career Scientist, Dr. Jennifer Lincoln has continued to lead the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Research and Design Program. As the Injury Epidemiologist for the Program, she has provided data to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Marine Fisheries Service so that they could formulate recommendations and safety policies to reduce hazards in the commercial fishing industry.

In September 2010, Congress passed the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 – Public Law 111-281. The Act contains instructions, based partly on NIOSH Congressional Testimony in the Spring of 2007, to the USCG to prevent vessel loss, falls overboard, and severe injuries in the commercial fishing industry, and to improve safety training. The USCG has requested technical assistance from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Regional Office (APRO) to identify the highest risk fleets in Alaska and along the West Coast in order to write relevant regulations given their new authorities.

In October 2010, the NTSB invited Dr. Lincoln to sit on three expert panels during their Fishing Vessel Safety Forum. The goals of the forum were (1) to identify safety issues in the industry from the perspective of both industry and government, and (2) to identify strategies for preventing accidents and reducing the commercial fishing industry’s unacceptably high injury and fatality rate. In November 2011, the NTSB released recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard to improve commercial fishing safety in the United States. Dr. Lincoln’s testimony, and NIOSH research, was cited extensively for the foundation of these recommendations.

In April 2011, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek input on changing the guidelines that NMFS uses to assess safety hazards during their fisheries management policy development process. NMFS stated that one of the reasons for this change was based on NIOSH findings and Dr. Lincoln’s testimony to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. NMFS invited her to provide technical guidance during their rulemaking process. These recommendations and policy changes will make an impact on saving fishermen’s lives.

As a recipient of the 2010 Director’s Award for Extraordinary Intramural Science, Dr. Lincoln has been able to use the $5,000 to conduct field work in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. She does not work alone and recognizes the fantastic staff she has; it is a combined effort that is successful in reducing hazards in the commercial fishing industry. Dr. Lincoln has recently been named Director of the NIOSH Alaska Regional Office.

Scientific Support:

Since receiving the 2010 Director’s Award for Extraordinary Intramural Science in the category of Scientific Support, Doug Cantis has had the opportunity to work with NIOSH Division of Safety Research (DSR) project officers and team members on eight projects. Some of these projects are ongoing, and involve the Analysis and Field Evaluations Branch (AFEB) and Protective Technology Branch (PTB). The projects focus on agriculture, construction, and workplace violence. At present, three of the projects have been implemented in the field.

Two of the projects that focus on agriculture, “Increasing Adoption of CROPS (cost-effective rollover protective structure) by Farmers and Manufacturers” directed by AFEB, and “Utilization of CROPS Designs in NYCAMH Retrofit Program” directed by PTB, have led to the installation of 70 NIOSH rollover protective structures on tractors in the states of NY, VA, VT and PA. These particular CROPS were designed for the most popular older Ford and Massey Ferguson tractors and can fit approximately 40 models.

While working on the PTB construction project, “Effectiveness Evaluations of the NIOSH Roof Bracket Assembly,” the DSR team designed and patented a multifunctional guardrail system which will protect construction workers from falls on job sites in the residential, industrial, and commercial construction industries. During June 2011 an exclusive licensing agreement was signed by NIOSH/CDC and AES Raptor, a North Kansas City, MO company. Information about the product now called Gorilla RailTM can be obtained from the company’s website www.raptorsafety.comexternal icon.

On a more personal note, in support of DSR, he was happy to allocate the monetary award of $2,500 towards supplementing needed supplies for High-Bay Lab in which he worked. Many of these supplies were used during the prototyping and installation of CROPS and the guardrail system components, as well as the fabrication of other test apparatuses that were utilized by DSR projects mentioned above. He felt honored to receive this award and appreciative of the contribution made to the projects at DSR.

Page last reviewed: April 26, 2012