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Study uses wristbands to measure air quality

Researchers at Texas A&M University found that devices that can be worn on the wrist can measure a class of chemicals that can be harmful during pregnancy.

Prenatal exposure to PAHs is linked to adverse health effects in children, so it is important to develop methods to measure them in order to monitor and tackle the risks they pose.

The study found that silicone wristbands, when used as passive samplers, could bind smaller molecular weight semi-volatile polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a class of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline, and are produced when coal, gas, wood, garbage and tobacco are burned.

The researchers’ analysis revealed that the wristbands yielded similar results to more traditional air sampling equipment in terms of quantifying PAHs in the air, comparing the wristbands attached on backpacks to traditional equipment within the backpack.

pregnant woman holding petaled flowers

Co-author Itza Mendoza-Sanchez, assistant professor in the Department of Environment and Occupational Health (EOH), said: ‘The use of wristbands is appealing because it is inexpensive and easy to wear. Wristbands have been used to detect a number of pollutants, but qualification of those pollutants remains a challenge. Our goal was to evaluate to what extent we can use wristbands as passive samplers to quantify PAHs in air.

‘We found that patterns of detection are similar for low-molecular weight compounds and that attaching the wristbands to the backpack’s strap is a good sampling design for evaluating conditions under which wristbands could be used for quantifying PAHs in air.’

Associate Professor Natalie Johnson said: ‘Maternal exposure to PAHs during pregnancy is particularly harmful to children’s health since this is a phase of rapid human growth and development. Thus, easy methods to quantify PAH exposure are of critical need in order to evaluate risk and develop effective intervention strategies.’

The researchers focused on pregnant women in Hidalgo County in South Texas, because of the area’s heightened prevalence of childhood asthma as well as a higher prematurity rate compared to the rest of the state.

They said that the results of the research support the use of wristbands as passive samplers in future studies evaluating adverse health outcomes from prenatal PAH exposure.

Photo by Ashton Mullins

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