Georgia Southern Professor Awarded Grant, Tests New Technology to Curb Exposure to Carcinogenic Dust Particles on Construction Sites

News provided by Georgia Southern University

Research offers larger implications for health care environments 

January 13th, 2022

Some of the most dangerous contaminants aren’t visible to the naked eye, but Georgia Southern University researchers are working to protect construction workers from this invisible danger.

In the construction world, chronic exposure to crystalline silica, which is present in dust particles created from drilling, grinding and sawing on job sites, can lead to serious medical issues and preventable fatalities.

Atin Adhikari, Ph.D, associate professor in Georgia Southern’s Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, has been awarded a $28,400 grant from Poma 22, LLC, to test new air curtain technology that could protect construction workers from hazardous fine dust particles.

As the principal investigator (PI), Adhikari will work with co-PIs Aniruddha Mitra, Ph.D, professor of mechanical engineering, and Saman Hedjazi, Ph.D, assistant professor of civil engineering and construction management, from Georgia Southern’s Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing.

“This research is important and innovative because we will test a revolutionary technology against fine dust exposure in construction sites that integrates a filtered air duct system into a hard hat, creating an air curtain or armor,” said Adhikari. “If we get a promising result, then this technology can be applied against other types of particles including bioparticles present in healthcare work environments.”

Graduate research assistant Victoria Clower, who is earning a Master of Public Health in environmental health sciences, values her involvement in life-changing research.

“This study of new technology on dust exposure control in construction sites will be very valuable with the quantifiable results showing the effectiveness of the air curtain technology,” she said. “As someone who is interested in occupational health, I am excited to work on a study that may provide an opportunity for other innovations for workplace safety to improve.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational and Safety Health Administration estimates roughly 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work. Workers at risk can develop lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease. In addition, approximately 500 preventable silica-related deaths occur each year.

As an environmental public health researcher, Adhikari has published numerous peer-reviewed studies on air quality and filtration. This project will focus on testing a newly developed respiratory protection technology, the Z Flow Pro helmet, which provides a downward draft through the front of the helmet, creating an air curtain in front of the worker’s face. Previous research has found that the air curtain is strong enough to deflect larger, visible particles.

Adhikari and his team will conduct comprehensive field testing of this new technology to determine if it is also effective protection against fine particles, providing valuable information and justification on the readiness level of this product to protect construction workers.

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