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Cigarette Butt-derived Pollutants in the Coastal Environment

Institution: California State University, Long Beach Foundation
Investigator(s): Rich Gossett, B.S.
Award Cycle: 2015 (Cycle 24) Grant #: 24XT-0015 Award: $200,000
Subject Area: Environmental Exposure/Toxicology
Award Type: Exploratory/Developmental Award

Initial Award Abstract

A disconnect exists between cigarette butt litter and the environmental impact of those cigarette butts. While a great deal of research has focused on the health effects of tobacco use, especially in regards to the thousands of xenobiotic chemicals in tobacco smoke, little research has focused on the environmental impact of cigarette butts. Research has shown that cigarette butts contribute to storm drain trash, which can ultimately end at rivers and oceans. Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, which is resistant to biodegradation and can persist in the environment for generations. Previous studies have identified over a 100 different chemicals from cigarette butts that could leach into the environment. Additionally, non-specific chemicals that leach from the cigarette butts have been found to be toxic to marine and freshwater fish. Although chemicals that leach into water from cigarette butts have been characterized, the actual concentrations of these chemicals have not been measured. Tapping into an established research academic institution at the California State University Long Beach (CSULB), the Institute for Integrated Research of Materials, Environments and Society (IIRMES) will guide exploratory research by measuring the concentrations of nonpolar chemicals in discarded cigarette butts and establish an unique chemical signature that could be identified from a cigarette source. Furthermore, focusing on a nonpolar chemical signature from cigarette butts will provide insight into their bioaccumulation potential in marine organisms. Discarded cigarette butts will be extracted and analyzed for organic nonpolar chemicals by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. This innovative exploratory study of cigarette butt chemicals bioaccumulation potential will foster interdisciplinary research and promote social and academic exchange within our community. Our Institute plans to incorporate CSULB, community college, and high school students within our community into our sampling process which will provide ethnically diverse students with knowledge and skills for the technical world.