OSU-Tulsa Students create first PFAS Sampling Guidelines for Oklahoma
Three OSU-Tulsa graduate students – Gianna Barolin, Debbie Bedingfield and Lauren Meyer – have created guidelines to help Oklahoma environmental scientists measure a pervasive household chemical many people do not realize is dangerous. The document is the first of its kind in the state of Oklahoma.
Barolin, Bedingfield and Meyer developed the General Guidance and Sampling Protocols for PFAS (Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ). These guidelines are designed to prevent cross-contamination while collecting air, water and soil samples to measure levels of PFAS, which are widely used chemicals linked to a number of detrimental health effects.
The guidelines were developed as part of the students’ Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Science degree creative components. They are expected to be published sometime in 2022 after being reviewed by specialists at the ODEQ.
“So far, less than a fourth of states have guidelines like these,” said Dr. Kenneth Ede, director of the Environmental Science Graduate Program at OSU-Tulsa, who served as faculty advisor for the project. “But the ODEQ recognizes the importance of these guidelines and requested this document. What these students have done is not only outline what materials shouldn’t be used for sampling, but also offer recommendations for materials and brands you can use. It’s very user friendly.”
PFAS are a complex class of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of products such as Teflon since the 1940s. PFAS exhibit many useful traits including thermal stability, low reactivity, and hydrophobic/lipophobic properties. Because of these properties, PFAS are commonly used in a wide variety of products including rain gear, make-up, hair spray, non-stick cookware, pizza boxes and foaming hand sanitizer.
However, PFAS are linked to a variety of adverse effects to both human and environmental health, including cancer, a decrease in antibody production and impacted infant and fetal development. Additionally, these chemicals are difficult to remove from the environment and have the capability for bioaccumulation – a process in which an organism absorbs a substance at a rate faster than the substance is lost or eliminated.
“One of the most concerning aspects of PFAS is that they are one of the most widely distributed yet least understood contaminants in the world right now,” said Meyer. “PFAS are one of the largest up-and-coming chemicals of concern in the field of environmental science. Further researching the health impacts of PFAS and establishing federal guidance on PFAS sampling/remediation are some of the EPA’s highest priority projects right now.”
Meyer, Barolin and Bedingfield researched the potential presence of PFAS in consumer products and equipment in addition to reviewing scientific literature, EPA guidance, other state-specific guidance and other relevant documents to compile the guidelines.
The students, who graduated in December, were each awarded letters of commendation from the ODEQ upon completion of the project. All three were offered and accepted jobs in environmental health and safety while working on this project.
The Professional Science Master’s Program in Environmental Management at OSU-Tulsa is the first and only program of its kind in Oklahoma. It provides students innovative and practical training to ensure they are prepared for careers in environmental health and safety from day one.
Learn more about the Professional Science Master’s Program in Environmental Management, which boasts a nearly 100 percent employment rate for its graduates, at tulsa.okstate.edu/psm.
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