MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Workplaces that have heavy equipment – construction sites, mines and garages – have employees who are potentially exposed to nanoparticles from diesel engine use. A West Virginia University researcher received a grant that will allow him and his team to study what effects those particles have on workers.

Mike McCawley, Ph.D., associate research professor in the Department of Community Medicine, will use the $132,000 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to purchase new equipment for WVU's Occupational Medicine laboratories that can reproduce industrial processes that generate nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles are increasingly prevalent in consumer and industrial products, but research into the health effects of these extremely small manufactured materials is just beginning.

“We can learn a lot from these traditional workplaces to predict what might be seen from emerging industries that use carbon fiber nanotubes in construction of new products that are lightweight but have high strength,” Dr. McCawley said. “We can also apply the knowledge to ambient air exposures in the general population from diesel exhaust and contaminants that may be produced as a result of the reaction of common pollutant gases, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, with oxygen in the atmosphere using sunlight as the energy source. The reaction products turn into nano-sized solid particles.”

The new equipment will allow WVU to improve the training of preventive medicine health professionals. Many of those who will be trained in this lab are physicians in post-graduate training in occupational medicine. 

“They are very likely to see the health effects from nanoparticle exposure in workplaces that are producing these products. By increasing their awareness of the properties of nanoparticles, we hope to prepare these doctors to detect potential health problems that may develop,” McCawley said. “They will also be better prepared to assist in developing safety measures that can prevent illness or injury from nanoparticles.”

For more information on the WVU Department of Community Medicine see

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj/bc: 11-12-10