This week, a report published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry revealed unhealthy levels of perchloroethylene, a common component of dry cleaning products that has been linked to such disorders as cancer and neurological damage, in clothing that has recently been dry cleaned. But this study is not the typical one published in scientific journals, as a significant portion of the research was done by a high school sophomore.
That sophomore, Alexa Dantzler of Arlington County’s Bishop O’Connell High School, took what started as a regular high school science project into the big leagues of chemistry with the help of Georgetown Professor Paul Roepe, currently a biochemistry professor and formerly the head of the Chemistry Department. According to a story in Friday’s issue of the Washington Post, Roepe responded to an email from Dantzler, requesting help with the chemical analysis in her project.
The study, which the two performed along with some research assistants from the University’s chemistry department, involved sewing patches of different fabrics into the insides of coats, sending them to different, unidentified dry cleaners, and then testing the patches for various chemicals.
The results of this project wound up being somewhat controversial, as Dantzler and her team of Georgetown chemists discovered that the levels of harmful chemicals “could be higher than previous studies might suggest,” according to the Post. When they extrapolated what the levels of harmful chemicals would be if one left a few dry-cleaned sweaters in a warm car for an hour, they discovered that the level of perchloroethylene, or “perc,” would exceed the legal limits for workplace levels.
The use of perc, its retention in clothing, and its harmful effects have been hot points of debate for some time, and some skeptics argued that Dantzler’s experiment did not take into account other dry cleaning measures that would lower the levels, such as steam pressing. But whether Dantzler, Roepe, and their team made a great scientific innovation or not, we’re sure it still made for the one of the best science fair projects Bishop O’Connell has ever seen.
Photo and h/t Washington Post.