FGCU students test Dunbar residents’ hair for arsenic

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Students from Florida Gulf Coast University are working to help Dunbar residents living near a toxic sludge site.

If residents surrounding the sludge site were exposed to arsenic, students hope to find evidence of it in their hair as part of a research project.

“The more samples we have the more we can compare and find trends with,” Florida Gulf Coast University student Natalie Harvey said.

Arsenic was discovered at the site in 2007, and in the groundwater there in 2012, but those results didn’t become public until early 2017.

More: Dunbar sludge: health, property value and mistreatment concerns

Black and Veatch Consulting, a company which oversees test results for the City of Fort Myers, recently stated the “Source of arsenic in groundwater is not lime sludge.”

GFA, the company that did the testing, concluded, “The city should not be required under Chapter 62-780, F.A.C. to perform additional assessment or remediation of arsenic in groundwater because the results of the assessment indicate that the LSWM is not the source of arsenic in the groundwater at the site and immediate site vicinity.”

But residents in the neighborhood remain wary and are in search of more answers.

The research students have spent the last two years analyzing human hair. An XFR machine, which is similar to an X-ray machine, helps them find different trace elements such as calcium, zinc and lead.

The XFR machine can offer faster results at a healthier and more cost-efficient rate, according to Florida Gulf Coast University student Vanessa Susi.

“A lot of other techniques, while accurate, require a lot of toxic chemicals in order to digest the hair and extract the element that they are looking for,” Susi said. “Our method is very green, you’re not using a lot of those acids and other toxic materials.”

Students shifted their focus to research residents living in Dunbar after hearing uproar over the sludge.

“Maybe there’s something we can do to either help them or just to try to figure out if there’s a higher concentration found in hair,” Harvey said.

The students are not certified to tell Dunbar residents the specifics of what was found in their hair, as their techniques are for academic purposes only.

But their findings will be able to determine if a pattern or trend of arsenic was found in the hair of Dunbar residents.

SERIESClick here for complete coverage of Dunbar toxic sludge site

“I think it’s super awesome that we as students in undergrad are able to do something that will actually be published or impact something, like somebody out there is going to be able to somehow use the information,” Florida Gulf Coast University student Eyllen Miranda said.

Students also plan to test the soil on the site using the same method.

The City of Fort Myers will host a meeting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Dr. Carrie Robinson Event Center on 2990 Edison Avenue to discuss the latest round of test results.

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