WASHINGTON, D.C., (Oct. 19, 2010) -- In remote, rural areas of southwestern China, villagers cook and dry their clothes by burning pieces of coal they pick up off the ground. This fuel releases a toxin that may be poisoning millions of people, according to an ongoing investigation by chemists at the University at Buffalo in New York. The researchers are presenting their work today at the AVS 57th International Symposium & Exhibition, which takes place this week at the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico.
The toxin in question is fluoride, which binds to calcium in the human body and causes the disease fluorosis. This condition, which affects millions in China's Guizhou province, can cause dental problems, such as discolored and pitted teeth, as well as joint pain, muscular degeneration, and deformities in joints and the spine.
Worldwide, the most common source of excess fluoride is polluted water. But according to Joseph Gardella, a chemist at UB who has collaborated on a research project with Professor Handong Liang of the China University of Mining and Technology, Beijing (CUMTB), polluted coal may also be to blame.
"Careful research supported by the Chinese government eliminated water as the source, and pointed to air pollution from coal fired home fireplace," says Gardella. "The government has focused on finding solutions to the health issues resulting from the pollution in the villages and in identifying solutions to eliminating the pollution sources."
Gardella and graduate student Brett Yatzor analyzed samples of the coal gathered by the villagers using a variety of imaging techniques -- including Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry, which reveals not only the composition of a sample but also its chemical structure.
"When you just look at coal, it looks pretty homogenous," says Yatzor. "But when you do a chemical ion image, you can see that it's very heterogeneous."
Yatzor's imaging showed that -- like purer coals burned by power plants -- the carbon in the coal itself contained little fluorine. However, the inorganic clay used as an additive for coal-burning and as a binder in briquette-making by local residents showed very high levels of fluorine.
The scientists are still investigating exactly how this fluorine enters the human body. It might be inhaled in the particles produced when coal is burned in the villagers' closed, ventless huts. It could also be ingested; preliminary analyses of food samples such as chilies and corn have shown high levels of the toxin.
As the scientists' work continues, the Chinese government has put in place programs to install chimneys that would improve the ventilation of smoke in the huts and allow particulates to escape.
The presentation, "Imaging of Coal Speciation Using TOF-SIMS and Scanning Transmission X-Ray Microscopy (STXM) " is at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 19, 2010.
MORE INFORMATION FOR JOURNALISTS
The AVS 57th International Symposium and Exhibition is being held October 17-22, 2010, at the Albuquerque Convention Center, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The meeting includes more than 1,200 talks and posters presented in more than 130 technical sessions. All meeting information, including directions to the Convention Center, can be found at:
REGISTRATION -- Staff reporters and professional freelance journalists working on assignment are invited to attend the conference free of charge. Journalist registration instructions can be found at:
The AVS press room will be located in East Lobby of the Albuquerque Convention Center. Press room hours are Monday-Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The phone number there is 408-205-0595. Press Kits containing company product announcements and other news will be available on CD-ROM in the press room. Also access the online press room at: http://www2.
Complete Program: http://www2.
Searchable abstracts: http://www.
Topical Conferences: http://www2.
Meeting Home Page: http://www2.
The plenary talk, "Carbon Nanotubes and Single Sheet Graphene," which will be at noon on Monday, October 18, 2010 in Ballroom B of the Albuquerque Convention Center. See: http://www2.
AVS promotes communication, dissemination of knowledge, recommended practices, research, and education in a broad range of technologically relevant topics. One way that it does this is by offering special tutorials in areas such as:
- Graphene Tutorial (Sunday, October 17, 2010, 1:00-5:00 p.m.)
- Tutorial on Nanoparticle Characterization and Toxicity: Significant Challenges and Critical Needs (Sunday, October 17, 2010, 1:00-5:00 p.m.)
To access the complete descriptions of these special tutorials, see:
As a professional membership organization, AVS fosters networking within the materials, processing, and interfaces community at various local, national or international meetings and exhibits throughout the year. AVS publishes four journals, honors and recognizes members through its prestigious awards program, offers training and other technical resources, as well as career services.