Particles that we breathe leave fingerprints, of a sort, says Jerrold Abraham, MD, medical director of environmental and occupational pathology at Upstate. “Your lung retains some evidence of what you’ve inhaled over your life.”
His lab has created an extensive particle database and uses electron microscopy to identify, characterize and quantify particulate materials in tissue samples. This image — featured on the back page of the winter issue of Upstate Health magazine — shows a magnetic iron oxide bearing pulverized fuel ash particle, a waste product from a coal burning power plant. The finest of these particles can escape into the atmosphere. They form spheres as they cool, and depending on how quickly they cool, elements within the particles may or may not crystallize out. In this image, iron oxide dendrites create the star shapes and probably form a dendritic lattice structure within the sphere.