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Individual Highlight

An Innovative Study Uses Moss to Measure Air Toxin Levels at Schools in Portland, Oregon

Photo of A Forest Service researcher takes moss samples in Portland, Ore., as part of a study to analyze the moss for evidence of airborne toxins. Moss serve as a living record of local air pollution. USDA Forest ServiceA Forest Service researcher takes moss samples in Portland, Ore., as part of a study to analyze the moss for evidence of airborne toxins. Moss serve as a living record of local air pollution. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Air pollution has been linked to major health problems including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and adverse birth outcomes. Children can be particularly vulnerable to airborne toxins such as heavy metals. Forest Service scientists are conducting an inventive study that uses moss samples to measure the levels of air pollution at schools in Portland, Oregon.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Donovan, GeoffreyJovan, Sarah, Dr
Research Location : Oregon
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 789

Summary

Mosses and lichens are like sponges, absorbing moisture and nutrients out of the air and from rainfall. In doing so, they also pick up contaminants, which they store in their tissue, making them a living record of pollution levels from the nearby environment. Because they are so widespread, they provide a handy and inexpensive method of sampling air pollutants and mapping pollution sources. The scientists collected moss from 110 K-12 schools across the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area to analyze them for a variety of air pollutants identified as priorities by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. One school took the opportunity to engage several third and fifth grade science classes in their study.

The Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been following the results of this intensive sampling. The detailed deposition maps based on the collected data show the location and concentration levels of airborne toxins across the Portland area. This has allowed Oregon DEQ to site new permanent air quality monitors as well as several temporary mobile monitors in "trouble spots" showing previously unknown sources of heavy metals.

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