Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

USU's Science Unwrapped: Chemical commuters

Dr. Kimberly Hageman sit on a canoe conducting research
Jeffrey Perala-Dewey
Chemist Kimberly Hageman is measuring levels of chemical contaminants to better understand their transmission through the environment.

Chemical contaminants are found all across the earth, even in unexpected places far away from human activity. This Friday’s Science Unwrapped talk at Utah State University will focus on these contaminants and what they mean for our future.

“Our activities in our normal lives can have effects in places far away from where we live, and we may not realize that...each chemical contaminant has a different fate in the environment," Hageman said.

Dr. Kimberly Hageman is an environmental chemist and professor in the department of Chemistry and BioChemistry at USU.

“The type of environmental chemistry I do is focusing on contaminants in the environment. So these are toxic chemicals, usually ones that don't break down easily ... once they're released into the environment, from human activities, in most cases, these chemicals will last for a long time," Hageman explained.

These contaminants can behave differently, where some enter the atmosphere and stay there. Others can enter into the water systems. Some chemicals that are semi-volatile can do both.

“They'll volatilize when it's warm, but they'll condense back down when it's cold, but because they can volatilize it means they can travel long distances through the atmosphere. And that's what's really interesting about these particular chemicals and concerning about them, that we can find them in places where we don't expect to find toxic chemicals, like in the Arctic, or on the tops of mountains," Hageman explained.

When chemical contaminants collect in these remote places in the environment, processes like biomagnification can occur where animals higher up in an ecosystems food chain accumulate greater levels of toxins. This can also happen to people as we ingest food too.

At this month’s Science Unwrapped, Hageman will be speaking about how pollutants travel far and wide through the Earth’s Atmosphere and about some of her research being conducted in Arctic Alaska.

“Jeez, why are these chemicals way up in the Arctic when they aren't used anywhere near there at all — thousands of miles from where they're usually being used and released," Hageman asked.

Hageman’s presentation is this Friday at 7pm in the Eccles Learning Center.

Colleen Meidt is a science reporter at UPR as well as a PhD student at Utah State University. She studies native bees in the Mojave Desert and is particularly interested studying the conservation status of the Mojave Poppy Bee. In her free time, Colleen enjoys photography and rock climbing in the canyons.