by Paige Brown
Barry Dellinger, the Patrick F. Taylor Chair of LSU’s Department of Chemistry and LSU Superfund Research Center Director, was recently awarded the 2014 American Chemical Society, or ACS, Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology. The award, sponsored by the ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry and the ACS journal Environmental Science and Technology, recognizes Dellinger for his pioneering research on the sources, origin and environmental chemistry of combustion generated pollutants. The award specifically recognizes Dellinger’s work on polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans, or PCDD/F’s.
Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, often called “dioxins,” are produced during incineration and combustion of fossil fuels, wood, municipal and industrial waste. These chemicals, along with similar chemicals found in insecticides and coal tar products, are known to be extremely toxic to ecosystems and humans. Dioxins are unique pollutants in that they almost exclusively occur as products of human activity, and do not occur in high quantities naturally. The main source of PCDD/F is combustion – virtually any combustion process that includes chlorine in the fuel will produce dioxins.
“The extensive research performed by Dr. Dellinger laid the ground-word to a wider understanding of the mechanisms of dioxin formation,” said LSU’s Slawo Lomnicki, assistant professor of chemistry and LSU Superfund Research Materials Core leader. “With time, we have realized that a major contributor to dioxins emission is the surface-mediated cool zone of combustors. Dr. Dellinger was the first to propose the unified pathway of dioxin formation that encompassed both gas phase and surface reactions.”
Dellinger and Lomnicki have published a first detailed mechanism of the formation of “dioxins.” At present, they are working to develop a comprehensive algorithm that will allow prediction of emissions based on particular fuel compositions.
“While the biomedical research community is hard at work understanding the health impacts of pollution and the engineering community is developing methods for pollution control, surprisingly little is known about the mechanisms of formation of combustion-generated pollutants,” Dellinger said. “Our research places pollution prevention on a sound scientific basis and provides a critical interface between engineering and biomedical research.”
Dellinger’s research focuses on many environmental aspects of combustion. Although combustion and industrial thermal processes are essential to our everyday activities, they can produce a myriad of harmful pollutants, including Environmentally-Persistent Free Radicals, or EPFRs.
EPFRs are typically pollutants generated by hazardous waste. They are introduced to the environment in a variety of ways, most commonly through the combustion process found in industrial sites. EPFRs generated from research-based Superfund Sites, uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located, affect local ecosystems and potentially people.
In 2011, Dellinger received more than $11 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, or NIEHS, to continue the LSU Superfund Research Center and focus its research on EPFRs. In 2013, Dellinger and Lomnicki published a paper in Environmental Science & Technology describing the presence of EPFRs in tar balls washed onto shore after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Dellinger found that weathering of crude oil from the spill, by light, water and oxygen, produces free radicals in the form of EPFRs. These free radicals can then mix with sand particles that can become airborne, inhaled or digested by animals and humans, producing negative health impacts.
“Dr. Dellinger’s research was and still is fundamental to the understanding of chemical processes occurring in combustion systems,” Lomnicki said.
Vignettes of the ACS national award recipients, including Dellinger, will appear in the publication Chemical & Engineering News, or C&EN, in early 2014. Recipients will also be honored at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in conjunction with the 247th ACS National Meeting in Dallas.
For more information on the 2014 ACS National Awards, visit http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i36/ACS-2014-National-Award-Winners.html?h=1506832942.