Environmental pollution is becoming a growing health concern.

We reported a while back that researchers were developing a tool to measure toxins from breath to see what kinds of pollutants they were exposed to.

Now there is more information and more details available about the microelectromechanical systems that a group of researchers of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering is using to assess a person’s environmental exposure.

They published their findings in the research paper “The Possibilities Will Take Your Breath Away: Breath Analysis for Assessing Environmental Exposure,” in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“Breathing reflects both what we inhale and what we metabolize,” said professor Andrea Dietrich in a news release. “Toxins and non-toxins diffuse into the blood and then out of the body through breath.”

The smell of fear and illness

Doctors have been smelling patients’ breath for centuries to determine an illness, and the body also produces chemicals and odor s when excited or fearful.

But many toxins can’t be detected by the ordinary nose, and that is where the new technologies shine.

The microelectromechanical systems mentioned above include hair-thin sorption devices that can detect even trace amounts of possible toxins in a person’s breath on the parts per billion or the micro-particle scale.

Subjects are asked to breathe into sterile plastic and then the scientists process the captured exhaled air through small sorption devices about the size of a penny.

Using these technologies can improve test results or make it easier to identify biomarkers, reduce time needed for analysis, sample volume and consumables such as solvents and reagents, the researchers say.

Environmental pollution a growing problem

Paint is a common source of indoor air pollution.

Technologies like these are needed because people are exposed to larger amounts of environmental pollutants at home and at the workplace, including gaseous toxins coming from paints, carpeting, plastic-based flooring and other building materials and adhesives.

“The sources of some chemicals are well-known and extensively studied in the literature, while others simply appear in the complex chemical soup that surrounds us with no identified, or several potential, sources. Because they are present in a gaseous form, exposure is obligatory, as no one can refuse to breathe,” the researchers wrote.

Analyzing breath seems like a great idea, but it does require further research.

For example, no one knows what “normal” breath is. Analysis can be hampered by water vapor in the breath, which can block sensors.

Source: Virginia Tech

Industrial-strength air cleaners to reduce environmental exposure

Since indoor air environments are typically contaminated with pollutants such as volatile organic compounds, gases, chemicals, odors, mold, bacteria, viruses, particles and allergens, a good air cleaner can help reduce exposure.

Electrocorp has designed a wide range of portable or ductable air filtration systems with activated carbon, HEPA and UV germicidal filtration to help keep the air clean.

You can find recommendations for certain industries and commercial applications our website, or go directly to

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