OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of agricultural sciences

OSU study: Mercury scrubbers at Oregon power plant lower other pollution too

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Air pollution controls installed at an Oregon coal-fired power plant to curb mercury emissions are unexpectedly reducing another class of harmful emissions as well, an Oregon State University study has found.

Portland General Electric added emission control systems at its generating plant in Boardman, Oregon, in 2011 to capture and remove mercury from the exhaust. Before-and-after measurements by a team of OSU scientists found that concentrations of two major groups of air pollutants went down by 40 and 72 percent, respectively, after the plant was upgraded.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology this morning.

The Boardman plant, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River about 165 miles east of Portland, has historically been a major regional source of air pollution, said Staci Simonich, environmental chemist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and leader of the study team.

“PGE put control measures in to reduce mercury emissions, and as a side benefit, these other pollutants were also reduced,” she said.

The pollutants in question are from a family of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are formed from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and organic matter. PAHs are a health concern because some are toxic, and some trigger cell mutations that lead to cancer and other ailments.

Simonich and her team tracked concentrations of airborne PAHs during 2010 and 2011 at Cabbage Hill, Oregon (elevation 3,130 feet), about 60 miles east of the Boardman plant, and also at the 9,065-foot summit of Mount Bachelor 200 miles to the southwest.

They sampled approximately weekly from March through October of 2010, and again from March through September of 2011. They analyzed the samples for three major groups of PAHs: the parent chemicals and two “derivatives”— groups of PAH chemicals resulting from the decomposition of the parent PAHs.

The 2011 measurements at Cabbage Hill showed significantly reduced concentrations of the parent PAHs and also of one of the derivative groups, called oxy-PAHs (OPAHs). The other derivative group, called nitro-PAHs (NPAHs), did not show significant reduction. The NPAHs were more likely to have come from diesel exhaust associated with Interstate Highway 84, Simonich said.

Some of the individual PAH chemicals were reduced so much after the upgrade that the researchers couldn’t tell from the data whether the plant was running or not, she added.

“The upgrades reduced the PAH emissions to the point where we could hardly distinguish between air we sampled along the Gorge and at the top of Mount Bachelor.”

While Oregon’s mountaintops typically have less air pollution than lower-lying areas, Simonich’s previous work has shown that they are not pristine.

She and her student Scott Lafontaine stumbled upon the Boardman findings while studying PAHs that originate in Asia and ride high-level air currents across the Pacific Ocean. They were measuring how much of each PAH type was coming from Asia, and how much from within the Northwest or elsewhere.

“We wanted to see if there was the same level of trans-Pacific transport at lower elevations—where people actually live—as we’ve previously found at Mount Bachelor,” Simonich said.

When the researchers analyzed the Cabbage Hill data for 2010, they found high levels of the chemicals they were studying, but the pollutants did not have an Asian signature. Then in 2011, they found that the Cabbage Hill concentrations of the parent PAHs and OPAHs were much lower than they’d been in 2010.

“We looked at the data and said, ‘Wow! 2010 is different from 2011, and why should that be?’” Simonich said. “We had trouble understanding it from a trans-Pacific standpoint. So we started thinking about regional sources, and that’s what led us to look at emissions from Boardman.”

They got in touch with officials at PGE and learned about the April 2011 upgrade. Their review of PGE’s emission records revealed correlations with their own measurements. They concluded that the reductions in PAH concentrations at the Cabbage Hill site were caused by the 2011 upgrade.

The upgrade may also aid her research, Simonich said. “When you have a major point source of pollution nearby, it’s hard to pick out the signal of the Asian source coming from farther away. Now that these emissions are reduced, we may be able to pick up that signal much better.”

More important, she said, the air is cleaner.

“Boardman used to be a major source of PAH pollution in the Columbia River Gorge, and now it’s not,” she said. “That’s a good thing for PGE and a good thing for the people living in the Gorge.”

The study was funded by the OSU Superfund Research Program, a multidisciplinary center administered by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation collaborated on the research.

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Staci Simonich, 541-737-0497

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Staci Simonich

Staci Simonich is an environmental chemist studying air pollution at the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. Here she holds a sampler used for air quality research. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.
Boardman009RB

Portland General Electric's coal-fired generating plant near Boardman, Oregon. Photo by Rachel Beck.

OSU Master Food Preservers answer questions statewide

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s food preservation and safety hotline returns for its 35th year beginning July 13.

With a renewed interest occurring within food preserving, the statewide hotline is as important as ever, according to Nellie Oehler, who helped create the OSU Extension Service’s Master Food Preserver program. The program trains volunteers to answer questions on the help line, as well as at events like farmers markets and county fairs.

For many of the people who sign up for the eight-week course, food safety is one of the major reasons for their commitment to the 48 hours of class time and 40 to 70 hours of volunteering, said Oehler, coordinator for the program in Lane County. In 2014, more than 250 people were certified or recertified as Master Food Preservers and they gave back more than 25,000 hours.

“It’s so important because there’s so much misinformation on the web,” she said. “For canning recipes, it has to be research-based or it can be lethal.”

Volunteer Michelle Martin’s recalls of learning about a youngster who died from causes related to food poisoning.

“If I can help, I’m all for it,” said Martin, who lives in Lebanon and took the course in spring in Linn County.

Correct information is all the more relevant today because at least a generation has grown up without anyone in the family to pass down their experience and knowledge, Oehler said.

“The biggest learning curve was throwing away what you know – or think you know – and using tested recipes,” said Ruby Moon, who came to the once-a-week class in Linn County from Siletz. “In the Master Food Preserver classes you learn precisely what to do. This has changed the way I can.”

The hotline (800-354-7319) runs through Oct. 16 and again during the Thanksgiving holiday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. When the hotline is closed, callers can leave a message. Additionally, many Extension offices offer free pressure gauge testing.

Moon, Martin and other Master Food Preservers in 20 of Oregon’s 36 counties share their knowledge at events, while those trained in Douglas and Lane counties staff the hotline that gets thousands of questions a year -- 3,040 in 2014.

“You name it, we’ve been asked it,” said Roseburg volunteer Rayma Davis, who is serving as hotline coordinator for the second year. “There was one lady who called in and wanted to know if she stacked 10 pounds of books on top of her pot, would that give her 10 pounds of pressure in her canner. We explained that wasn’t the way it worked.”

Davis and other hotline volunteers refer to thick binders of recipes and research-based information vetted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The answers aren’t always obvious.

“It’s about critical thinking,” Davis said. “Someone might ask what’s the time required to can pickled fish. Well, you can’t can pickled fish. A new volunteer would probably not know that, so they’d have to know how to look it up. It’s kind of a trick question. We get them all day.”

Not all questions cause serious concern, though. Second-year volunteer Jacqui Richardson of Roseburg still chuckles about a call she got last summer.

“The woman asked if she could put salsa in jelly jars,” Richardson remembered. “I paused and said, ‘You know, I think you could.’ ”

Most commonly, people ask about preserving salsa, tomatoes and tuna. OSU Extension offers publications on each: Salsa Recipes for Canning, Canning Seafood and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products.

Master Food Preservers focus on safety, but they are also excited to learn about canning, pickling, drying and other forms of preserving food for themselves and for sharing with others. The camaraderie they find with the fellow volunteers is important, too.

“We have this thing that connects us,” said Moon as she poured baked beans into a sterilized jar. “It’s my favorite part of the week. I go home and say, ‘Guess what I did in canning class?’ It’s like Christmas.”

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Nellie Oehler, 541-344-4885

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OSU Master Food Preservers

Rebecca Butler of Philomath checks the head space of a jar of chicken before putting it in the pressure canner in an Oregon State University's Extension Service Master Food Preservers class. Photo by Kym Pokorny.

Taste Oregon's bounty at alfresco OSU dinner in Portland July 24

PORTLAND, Ore. – Seaweed chips, squash panna cotta, hazelnut miso and barley-infused ice cream will be featured on the menu at an outdoor dinner in Portland on July 24 that aims to showcase the diversity and versatility of some of the state's 220-plus agricultural commodities.

The family-style meal is open to the public and will be held at the Food Innovation Center, which is a collaborative effort between Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Registration for tickets, which cost $75, opens June 19. They can be purchased online. Space is limited to the first 75 who sign up. The dinner will take place from 6-9 p.m. at 1207 N.W. Naito Parkway.

The 75 members of the public will be dining with 25 invited guests, including farmers, small-scale food processors, buyers and food business entrepreneurs, said event organizer Sarah Masoni, who is OSU's product development manager at the center.

The dishes will be prepared by Jason Ball and Mary-Kate Moody, two culinary specialists at the Food Innovation Center, and traveling guest chef Chris Bailey, who has cooked at similar events across the nation. The three will describe how they prepared the dishes as they are passed around the tables.

Also speaking that night will be Brandon and Marieta Easley, the owners of Slice of Heaven Farm in Sandy, where much of the produce on the menu was grown. In a short video, Larry Lev, an economist with the OSU Extension Service, will discuss the economic contributions of the diverse crops produced in Oregon.

This inaugural event is a trial run for 10 similar dinners at OSU's agricultural research centers across the state planned for 2016 and 2017. They aim to raise awareness about crops grown in Oregon and inspire participants to increase their purchases of them.  

Items on the menu will include:

  • crispy chickpea flatbread with wild herbs and flowers;
  • red cabbage stuffed with hazelnut miso and potatoes; 
  • seaweed chips;
  • smoky onions tossed with buttermilk and honey;
  • grated celery root bathed in lemon, yogurt, blueberries and herbs;
  • smoked carrots served with pesto made from their leafy tops;
  • Swiss chard wilted with pickled grapes, plums and fresh herbs;
  • panna cotta made from squash with apricots, pears and cherries;
  • beef and tuna with beets and hot chili pepper paste;
  • mixed berry gelato made by Gelato Maestro;
  • barley-infused ice cream on barley cookies.

"Hors d’oeuvres will be offered at the beginning of the meal," Ball said. "Main dishes will be served family-style. The condiments will be either made in-house or will be donated from local entrepreneurs that the Food Innovation Center has worked with in the past."

Learn more about the event on the center's Facebook page.

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Sarah Masoni, 503-872-6655

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dulse chips

Chips made from dulse seaweed will be on the menu at a dinner at the Food Innovation Center in Portland on July 24. (Photo by Stephen Ward)

Kids develop lifelong skills at OSU’s 4-H summer camps

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Traditionally at 4-H summer camps, kids sang around fires, cast fishing lines and wove leather into key chains. Now, they’re just as likely to build a robot or repair a hiking path.

“Kids do so many different things,” said Pamela Rose, the leader of the Oregon State University Extension Service’s 4-H program. “They may explore a different culture, learn about an ecosystem, do rock climbing or make robots.”

No matter the activity, she said, youth involved with OSU Extension’s 4-H camps come away with four things: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.

“From a development standpoint,” Rose said, “our most recent research tells us that when youth develop these traits, they have the ability to thrive.”

The camps are open to all kids, not just 4-H youth. They are held throughout the state, including at the Oregon 4-H Center in Salem. Cost varies by camp and scholarships are available.

Camp counselors create an atmosphere that fosters those attributes and give kids someone to look up to, she added.

“That’s really important to kids,” Rose said. “They think, ‘Wow, I’m pretty special.’ And they are.”

For many of the campers – 2,415 in Oregon last year – it’s the first time they’ve been away from home and the experience gives them a sense of independence and responsibility. They have to make decisions about everything from how they treat others to how to use their free time, Rose said.

 “Camps do so much in a short but intense period,” Rose said. “It’s 24/7, not just a one-hour class. It’s pretty memorable.”

Check out the list of 4-H overnight camps this summer:

Clackamas County, July 20-25, fourth through eighth grades. Includes environmental education, arts and other camping activities. Contact: 503-655-8635.

Clatsop County, 4-H Summer Slumber, July 9-11, fourth through seventh grades. Kids learn to make rockets and the life of honeybees, all in a traditional camping atmosphere. Contact: 503-325-8573.

Columbia County, June 14-17, fourth through seventh grades. Wildlife programs, nature hikes and field games are a few of the activities. Contact: 503-393-3462.

Coos and Douglas counties, National Park Road Trip, July 7-10, fourth through sixth grades. Explore the science and culture of the U.S. National Parks. Contact: Teresa Middleton at 541-672-4461.

Curry County, Lobster Creek Camp, Aug. 12-15, third through fifth grades. Arts and nutrition education are among the activities. Contact: 541-247-6672.

Gilliam, Morrow and Wheeler counties, 4-H Camp, June 18-21, fourth through sixth grades. Contacts: Gilliam County, Monica Mitchell, 541-384-2274; Wheeler County, Amy Derby, 541-763-4115; Morrow County, Ashley Jones, 541-676-9642.

Grant and Harney counties, Heroes, Superheroes and Villains Camp, July 13-17, fourth through sixth grades. Includes natural resources classes, skits and traditional camping activities. Contact: 541-573-2506.

Hood River, Sherman, and Wasco counties, Camp Morrow, July 17-20, fourth through sixth grades. Features traditional camping activities. Contact: 541-296-5494.

Linn, Benton, Lincoln and Tillamook counties, Myths, Legends and Fairytales Camp, June 28-July 3, fourth through eighth grades. Hands-on classes with a natural resources theme. Contact:  Linn County, 541-967-3871; Benton County, 541-766-6750; Lincoln County, 541-574-6534; Tillamook County, 541-842-3433.

Union, Baker and Wallowa counties, Eastern Oregon Tri-County Summer Camp, July 7-10, fourth through seventh grades. Includes natural resources activities. Contact: John Baggott at 541-963-1010.

Additional 4-H camps:

4-H Summer Conference, June 24 -27, Oregon State University campus, seventh to 12th grades. More than 80 classes, including visiting a logging site, dog agility, fly fishing, community service and educational speakers. Contact: Roberta Lundeberg, 541-737-9295.

4-H Wildlife Stewards Camp, July 28-Aug. 1, Oregon 4-H Center in Salem, third through sixth grades. Includes a hands-on restoration project, as well as wildlife tracking, bird watching, nature crafts, fishing and forestry. Contact: Maureen Hosty, 503-657-7385.

4-H International Summer Camps

Geared toward Latino students throughout the state. Participants will learn about Lego robotics, natural resources, engineering, math, science, technology and health. They also explore cultural identity, leadership and the benefits of attending college. For physical activities, they swim, canoe, play volleyball, basketball, soccer and practice archery. Takes place at Oregon 4-H Center in Salem.

-- Third through fifth grades, July 9-12

-- Sixth through eighth grades, Aug. 4-8

-- Sixth through eighth grades (includes not only Latino youth, but also kids from other ethnic backgrounds), Aug 11-15

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Pamela Rose, 541- 737-4628

Free fishing day set June 6 at Oregon Hatchery Research Center

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon Hatchery Research Center will offer a free fishing day and open house on Saturday, June 6, at the center, which is located just off Highway 34 about 13 miles west of the town of Alsea. The event will run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A small pond for children ages 5 and under will be set up at the center and it will have access for the disabled. It will be stocked with rainbow trout and fishing gear, bait and assistance will be provided, if needed.

The free fishing day extends to nearby Thissel Pond, located approximately a half-mile from the center. A free shuttle will transport anglers to Thissel Pond, which is also stocked with trout, but does not have disability access.

The center will also be open for tours and exhibits. Concessions will be available on-site as a fund-raiser for the Alsea High School girls basketball team.

Free fishing day at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center coincides with the free fishing weekend established by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, thus no licenses are necessary.

To reach the center, travel about 13 miles past the town of Alsea on Highway 34 and turn north at milepost 27 onto East Fall Creek Road. Drive about 2.5 miles on that road to reach the center.

Hatchery managers caution visitors to drive carefully on the gravel road and obey the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit, and be aware of pedestrians – especially children – on or near the road.

The center is a collaborative project between ODFW and Oregon State University. The free fishing day is sponsored by ODFW, Siuslaw National Forest, and the Alsea Sportsman’s Association.

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Ryan Couture, 541-487-5510, ext. 100; ryan.b.couture@state.or.us

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OSU ranks 9th in agriculture and forestry among 200 universities globally

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has been recognized as a world-class center in agriculture and forestry, ranking ninth in an international survey.

The listing appeared in the QS World University Rankings of approximately 200 top institutions for agriculture and forestry worldwide in 2015.

“Our world ranking is a testament to the continued great work of our faculty and researchers,” said Dan Arp, dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

“We’re excited about another top global ranking that recognizes the breadth and depth of our research and teaching, and our great partnership with the College of Agricultural Sciences,” said Thomas Maness, dean of OSU’s College of Forestry. “It’s very satisfying to see the excellence of our faculty and students recognized internationally.”

Published annually since 2011, the rankings take into account the number of citations for journal articles. They are also based on surveys sent to employers and academics, who are asked to list institutions they consider excellent for recruitment of graduates and research, respectively. Only eight other institutions in the world ranked above OSU, two of which tied for fifth.

Two of the universities on the list are international, thus OSU agriculture and forestry are ranked seventh in the U.S.

As the state's land-grant university, agricultural research and instruction are a vital component of OSU's mission. Its College of Agricultural Sciences is home to 13 departments, including animal and rangeland sciences, fisheries and wildlife, horticulture, crop and soil science, food science and technology, and environmental and molecular toxicology. Its faculty conduct agricultural research in Corvallis and at 15 other locations around the state, and they help Oregon's farmers and ranchers be successful.

During the 2013-14 academic year, 471 undergraduates and 100 graduate students received degrees from the college, said Penelope Diebel, assistant dean of academic programs.

Spread across three departments, OSU's College of Forestry offers seven undergraduate and four graduate degree programs, including forest engineering, renewable materials, wood science and engineering, natural resources, and recreation resource management. During the 2013-14 academic year, the college awarded more than 170 undergraduate and 50 graduate degrees. 

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Dan Arp, 541-737-2331;

Thomas Maness, 541-737-1585

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QS ranking of 9th, 2015

Oregon State University's faculty are stationed around the state, including Maud Powell (second from right), an instructor in southern Oregon with OSU's small farms program. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Taste the latest local products June 2 at OSU's Food Innovation Center

PORTLAND, Ore. – Nearly 50 local food entrepreneurs will offer free tastings of their products to the public at an outdoor market at Oregon State University's Food Innovation Center in Portland on June 2.

The second annual Time to Market will feature live music and will take place from 4-7 p.m. Free samples will be available, including crème brûlée, gelato, pickles, peppers and gluten-free and vegan options. Shoppers will be able buy many of the items.

The vendors are graduates of the 14-week Getting Your Recipe to Market course, taught in part by OSU's Sarah Masoni, the center's product development manager. In the class, they turned their recipes into commercial-ready products, developed business and marketing plans, crafted elevator pitches, solved packaging and food safety issues, and met one-on-one with retail buyers. More than 200 people have completed the program since it started in 2006, Masoni said.

Just before the June 2 showcase, from 2:30-4 p.m., each exhibitor will make private sales pitches to investors, distributors and local retail buyers with the hopes that they can place their products in stores, restaurants, hospitals, college campuses and in the cafeterias of large companies.

The center plans to host a similar showcase indoors in December, said Masoni, who is also a food product development specialist with the OSU Extension Service.

The Food Innovation Center, a collaborative effort between OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, is at 1207 N.W. Naito Parkway. For more information on the event, call 503-872-6680.

Getting Your Recipe to Market is a partnership between OSU, Portland Community College and grocer New Seasons Market. The hands-on program takes place biannually at PCC.

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Sarah Masoni, 503-872-6655

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Food Innovation Center

Food entrepreneurs and the public gather in front of Oregon State University's Food Innovation Center at last year's Time to Market showcase. Photo by Stephen Ward.

OSU researchers fix calculation error in study on fracking and human health

NOTE: The original news story published at this site has been removed, because the study on which it was based has been retracted from the journal in which it was published. The story below recognizes that retraction; reflects the newest findings on this topic; and references a different study that has been published. - Oregon State University, News and Research Communications, 7-15-16

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A 2015 Oregon State University study that linked natural-gas fracking to increased air pollution and heightened health risks has been corrected by its authors.

The corrected article still concludes that natural gas extraction contributes polluting chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to the air, but at levels that would not be expected to increase lifetime cancer risk above the EPA threshold.

The researchers measured levels of airborne PAHs near several Ohio hydraulic-fracturing sites in 2014. PAHs have been linked to increased risk of cancer and respiratory diseases.

In their March 2015 article, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the researchers reported that PAH pollution from fracking could put a person living in the study area at a greater than a one-in-a-million risk of developing cancer during his or her life. One in a million is the threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for unacceptable cancer risk.

The authors retracted the article on June 29, 2016, after they found an error in a complicated spreadsheet used to calculate the concentrations of various PAH chemicals in the air.

The researchers redid the calculations and submitted a corrected version of the article, which was published on July 11, 2016. It finds that the estimated risk for the maximum exposure to fracking-related PAH pollution in the study area is 0.04 in a million—well below the EPA’s threshold.

Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations, said the mistake came to light as the researchers were crunching numbers from a current project. In the process, he said, they discovered a similar calculation error in a 2014 study of PAH pollution of air and water during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which also was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

That article too was retracted on June 29, and the corrected article was published online on July 8.

“In both cases the researchers were using a complicated, multi-linked spreadsheet to analyze large quantities of data,” said Clark. “The error was an honest mistake that unfortunately slipped through the peer-review process. Our researchers knew they couldn’t let it stand, so they stepped forward and corrected the error.”  

The coauthors of the Ohio fracking study include OSU researchers Kim Anderson (College of Agricultural Sciences) and Laurel Kincl (College of Public Health and Human Sciences), and Erin Haynes of the University of Cincinnati. Anderson also coauthored the Deepwater Horizon study.

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Steve Clark, 541-737-3808

steve.clark@oregonstate.edu

OSU teaches Portland’s Hispanic community about healthy eating

GRESHAM, Ore. – A dozen women in black aprons clustered around a kitchen island chopping onions, shredding chicken and chatting in Spanish.

At a community center in Gresham, they were making chicken chili in a nutrition and exercise program for Hispanic families taught in Spanish by Oregon State University’s Extension Service. The free eight-week class helps participants with the fundamentals of healthy eating like choosing more vegetables over too many carbohydrates, baking instead of frying and substituting water for soda.

Extension offers the course every four months in nine communities in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Since the nutrition education programs launched12 years ago, more than 6,300 adults and 9,000 children have taken classes, according to Lynn Steele, leader of OSU Extension’s Hispanic nutrition program in the metro area.

Hispanic immigrants often eat less nutritiously once they leave their traditional diets and lifestyles, said Steele. Health problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol spike as they begin eating the high-fat, high-sugar diets common in the United States.

“When they find out they are pre-diabetic or have another condition, they’re kind of in a panic,” Steele said. “They don’t want to go down that road. They come to the class to learn to prevent illness and how they can offer their families a variety of food for good health.”

Women in the course in Gresham heard about it from Extension’s volunteer community health promoters who work with churches, community centers and government social service agencies to identify people who might benefit from the program.

Lorena Caballero, who took the classes more than 10 years ago, is now one of the promoters.

“I’ve lost weight,” she said. “My kids are starting to read nutrition labels. They’ll read the potato chips and say, ‘Oh, I can only eat 12 potato chips.’”

Christina Ramirez, who has completed several courses, spoke through a translator about having diabetes on both sides of her family and a pre-diabetic husband.

“I learned I’m at high risk,” said Ramirez, who is sending her family in Mexico illustrated recipes that Extension published in Spanish and English. “So little by little we’ve reduced the amount of carbs that we eat. We’re making half of our plates vegetables. My husband is starting to take it more seriously.”

In addition to healthy eating, she has added an exercise regime that includes walking, Zumba, yoga and weightlifting. As a result, she has lost 24 pounds in 18 months.

When the women finished cooking and moved on to the exercise portion of the class, they marched in place swirling orange, pink and yellow scarves as their young children ate healthy snacks, drew pictures and played. Bonding between families is an added benefit.

“The group interaction is so important,” Steele said. “Their extended families are in Mexico or another Latin American country. They’re lonely. Depression is not uncommon.”

Candida de Jesus said she had been depressed.

“I didn’t dress well,” said the mother of five said in Spanish. “Now I’m losing weight, dressing better and feeling much better about myself. And I’m teaching my kids to eat vegetables and drink water instead of soda.”

Most of the women in this particular class started their journey in a Walk With Ease course offered by OSU Extension and designed for people with chronic problems such as arthritis. Participants walk for as long as they can, two to three times each week, and get familiar with the importance of exercise.

“They get so much from it,” said Steele. “We want them to develop habits around physical activity. Between that and the nutrition component, the classes change their lives.”

The Hispanic nutrition program is overseen by Extension’s Family and Community Health program in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Services. It is part of OSU Extension’s statewide nutrition education program for limited-income Oregonians, which is funded by Oregon’s Department of Human Services. A video on the Hispanic program can be found in English and Spanish.

Upcoming Hispanic nutrition classes start in October in Aloha, Beaverton, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Portland, Sandy, Tigard and Troutdale. For days and times, contact the OSU Extension office in Portland at 503-254-5004 or in Washington County at 503-821-1134.

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Lynn Steele, 503-254-5004

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Lucy Lores, an educator with the Oregon State University Extension Service, demonstrates a healthy recipe. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

OSU scientists develop improved way to assess cancer risk of pollutants

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists at Oregon State University have developed a faster, more accurate method to assess cancer risk from certain common environmental pollutants.

Researchers found that they could analyze the immediate genetic responses of the skin cells of exposed mice and apply statistical approaches to determine whether or not those cells would eventually become cancerous.

The study focused on an important class of pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, that commonly occur in the environment as mixtures such as diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke.

“After only 12 hours, we could predict the ability of certain PAH mixtures to cause cancer, rather than waiting 25 weeks for tumors to develop,” said Susan Tilton, an environmental toxicologist with OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

For at least some PAH mixtures, the new method is not only quicker but produces more accurate cancer-risk assessments than are currently possible, she said.

“Our work was intended as a proof of concept,” said Tilton, who is also affiliated with the OSU’s multidisciplinary Superfund Research Program, a center funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

“The method needs to be tested with a larger group of chemicals and mixtures. But we now have a model that we can use to develop larger-scale screening tests with human cells in a laboratory dish.”

Such a method will be particularly useful for screening PAHs, a large class of pollutants that result from combustion of organic matter and fossil fuels. PAHs are widespread contaminants of air, water and soil. There are hundreds of different kinds, and some are known carcinogens, but many have not been tested.

Humans are primarily exposed to PAHs in the environment as mixtures, which makes it harder to assess their cancer risk. The standard calculation, Tilton said, is to identify the risk of each element in the mix – if it’s known – and add them together.

But this method doesn’t work with most PAH mixes. It assumes the risk for each component is known, as well as which components are in a given mix. Often that information is not available.

This study examined three PAH mixtures that are common in the environment - coal tar, diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke – and various mixtures of them.

They found that each substance touched off a rapid and distinctive cascade of biological and metabolic changes in the skin cells of a mouse. The response amounted to a unique “fingerprint” of the genetic changes that occur as cells reacted to exposure to each chemical.

By matching patterns of genetic changes known to occur as cells become cancerous, they found that some of the cellular responses were early indicators of developing cancers. They also found that the standard method to calculate carcinogenic material underestimated the cancer risk of some mixtures and overestimated the combined risk of others.

“Our study is a first step in moving away from risk assessments based on individual components of these PAH mixtures and developing more accurate methods that look at the mixture as a whole,” Tilton said. “We’re hoping to bring the methodology to the point where we no longer need to use tumors as our endpoint.”

Tilton collaborated on the research with Katrina Waters of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and others. Their findings appeared in a recent edition of Toxicological Sciences.

The study was funded by NIEHS, which supports the Superfund Research Program, a multi-partner collaboration that includes OSU and PNNL.

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Susan Tilton, 541-737-1740

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OSU environmental toxicologist Susan Tilton. Photo by Gail Wells.