USU’s Science Unwrapped: Chemical commuters

Chemical contaminants are found all across the earth, even in unexpected places far away from human activity. This Friday’s Science Unwrapped talk at Utah State University will focus on these contaminants and what they mean for our future.

“Our activities in our normal lives can have effects in places far away from where we live, and we may not realize that…each chemical contaminant has a different fate in the environment”, says Hageman.

Dr. Kimberly Hageman is an environmental chemist and professor in the department of Chemistry and BioChemistry at USU.

“The type of environmental chemistry I do is focusing on contaminants in the environment. So these are toxic chemicals, usually ones that don’t break down easily… once they’re released into the environment, from human activities, in most cases, these chemicals will last for a long time”, explains Hageman.

These contaminants can behave differently, where some enter the atmosphere and stay there. Others can enter into the water systems. Some chemicals that are semi-volatile can do both.

“They’ll volatilize when it’s warm, but they’ll condense back down when it’s cold, but because they can volatilize it means they can travel long distances through the atmosphere and that’s what’s really interesting about these particular chemicals and concerning about them, that we can find them in places where we don’t expect to find toxic chemicals, like in the Arctic, or on the tops of mountains”, Hageman explains.

When chemical contaminants collect in these remote places in the environment, processes like biomagnification can occur where animals higher up in an ecosystems food chain accumulate greater levels of toxins. This can also happen to people as we ingest food too.

At this month’s Science Unwrapped, Hageman will be speaking about how pollutants travel far and wide through the Earth’s Atmosphere and about some of her research being conducted in Arctic Alaska.

“Geeze why are these chemicals way up in the Arctic when they aren’t used anywhere near there at all 1000s of miles from where they’re usually being used and released”, says Hageman.

Hageman’s presentation is this Friday at 7pm in the Eccles Learning Center.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *