Thursday, June 20, 2019

Women in Science: Meredith Jones works to keep toxic metals out of children's products

Ecology chemist Meredith Jones in front of Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer.
Meredith Jones is a chemist at Ecology’s environmental laboratory. Her recent lab work testing metals in children’s products led to an important agreement between the Washington Attorney General and the online retailer, Amazon. Meredith’s work helped identify high levels of lead and cadmium in children’s products sold on Amazon’s website. Now, the company must obtain certificates from third-party sellers proving their compliance with state and federal consumer protection laws. Read the full interview below to learn more about Meredith’s recent work!

Meredith's job at Ecology

Jones at work using a 
microwave to digest consumer products.
I am a chemist, metals unit lead, and Ecology’s Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) specialist. I have been working at Manchester Environmental Laboratory for 21 years. My job involves preparing and analyzing various types of samples including freshwater, seawater, soils/sediments, paints, plant and animal tissues, consumer products, and wastes for trace metals. My job includes selecting which prep method will result in the best digestion of these various matrices, analyzing the samples following method-specific quality criteria, and reporting results that are accurate, free from bias and interferences, and legally defensible.

Recent work

In 2017, I began developing a method to analyze nanoparticles using single nanoparticle Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer. The use and production of engineered nanomaterials, which are manufactured for many consumer products,  is on the rise. This poses important toxicological concerns. The development of this method is challenging and ongoing, as it is a relatively new technology.

For the last several years, I have been involved in the preparation and analysis of several consumer product projects including:
  • Cadmium and other metals in children’s jewelry.
  • Toxics and metals in packaging.
  • Clothing studies and school supplies. 
I tested products for arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, molybdenum, lead, antimony and chromium, or a subset of these metals. Some of the results had alarmingly high metals concentrations, including one piece of children’s jewelry that was 98 percent cadmium. 

In a recent school supply project, I analyzed samples containing up to 1,270 parts per million (ppm) cadmium and 8,560 ppm lead. These results led to a nationwide recall of 15,000 products. Some school supplies had more than 80 times legal limit of lead. The recall of these products has been accompanied by stricter regulations on the sale of such items, and funding being granted for future testing. I believe the outcome of this testing is just the beginning of many changes to come that will protect consumers from being unknowingly exposed to toxic materials. I am proud to have contributed to these changes.

Advice for future women in science

A love of animals and nature is what drew me to a career in science. Although my degree in environmental science led me to a job in a laboratory rather than one in the field, I know that the work I do at our lab is helping to protect and improve the environment.

I would advise young girls and women to have fun with science and keep digging for solutions. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again. Don’t be afraid of failure. The learning process includes discovering where the mistakes came from and troubleshooting new strategies for the next time.
Jones adds acid to a vessel containing a consumer product sample.
Ignore gender stereotyping and the misconception that science is nerdy. I know, off the top of my head, the most abundant atomic mass of over 50 elements on the periodic table. Is that nerdy? Perhaps, but I love to find a way to interject these numbers into everyday conversations. I can’t tell if my teenage daughters find this impressive or annoying and embarrassing, but probably the latter. Oh well ... I think it's funny. Science is fun!

By: Ruth Froese, Environmental Assessment Program

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