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DSU students present at Undergraduate Research Poster Session at State Capitol

March 20, 2015

Three students from Dakota State University presented at the 2015 Student Research Poster Session in Pierre, S.D. on March 5. Chris Wahl, Port Angeles of Wash., Jared Horack of Washington, N.J., and Michele Rogers of Aberdeen, S.D. were among the 16 students competitively chosen from South Dakota colleges and universities that presented to state lawmakers and the public on their research initiatives.

Wahl and Horack’s presented on their South Dakota Real Wage Calculator, which they have been working on since spring of 2014. Collaborating with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and faculty advisor Josh Stroschein, the students designed the application to calculate the purchasing power of wages, after federal income tax, state income tax, and social security taxes are withheld. After-tax wages are then adjusted by a specific city/region’s cost of living to determine a user’s purchasing power. The calculator allows users to compare job offers to see which job really pays the best. It is the only calculator that takes taxes into account when comparing real wages in different cities and states. The website recently launched at http://calculaterealwages.com/.

Rogers’ research presentation was entitled “Forensic screening analysis of hazardous chemicals present in thermal cash register receipts collected from businesses around Dakota State University.” Her interest in this topic was sparked by the growing body of scientific research showing that toxic chemical additives, such as the headline-grabbing Bisphenol-A (or simply “BPA”) and the so-called phthalate plasticizers occur at high levels in common consumer materials with which humans have frequent skin contact. These products include plastic drinking bottles and food containers, plastic novelty jewelries and strangely enough even cash register receipts. Long believed safely sequestered within these products, we now know that these chemicals can be easily transferred to human skin during handling, posing risks to human health. Especially intrigued by recent reports of high (percent) levels of these chemical additives in cash register receipts collected from U.S., European and Asian retail outlets, and abnormally high urinary levels in U.S. retail workers required to handle receipts for prolonged periods, Rogers hypothesized that these chemicals likely occur at similarly high levels in cash register receipts throughout this region as well. To test her hypothesis, she collected receipts from diverse businesses within a 50-mile radius of the DSU campus and screened them using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry—a powerful chemical analysis tool used in research and testing laboratories worldwide. Rogers discovered that all receipts contained BPA and phthalate plasticizers at levels estimated to range from 0.1 to 2% by weight, as well as a multitude of other chemicals with known and suspected toxic potentials. She also found polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in one receipt sample obtained from a major national retail outlet. This was a bizarre finding as PCBs—highly toxic chemicals used mainly in high temperature electrical transformers—have been banned in the U.S. since 1979. Rogers and her faculty advisor, chemistry professor Dr. Michael Gaylor, continue to refine their analysis methods to permit more accurate measurements of these problematic chemicals in cash register receipts and other consumer papers and plastics with which humans have frequent and intimate contact.

Rogers’ research was also selected for the Student Research Initiative (SRI) Award at DSU.