In the Lab

Tracking Air Pollution in the Pioneer Valley

October 28, 2010

Just looking off into the distance on a warm day in the Pioneer Valley shows that the area doesn’t have quite the air pollution problems that smog-plagued cities Beijing or Los Angeles do.

But that doesn’t mean the air is completely free of pollutants, says chemistry professor Karena McKinney; a nearby coal-fired power plant may be emitting harmful levels of mercury, a neurotoxin. McKinney, two other faculty colleagues and several undergraduate researchers set out this past summer to get a better handle on how that power plant is affecting the environment by measuring the amount and geographical distribution of mercury in air, sediment and biological samples. (Related studies with a new, cutting-edge piece of equipment recently caught the eye of staffers with the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office, who featured her work on the organization’s website.)