Mercury-soaking sponge may dramatically impact public health
A team of Minnesota researchers has developed a sponge that absorbs toxic mercury from polluted water. The advance promises to address a serious, persistent threat to public health and aquatic life.
Using nanotechnology, the team developed a memory-foam sponge coated with a microscopic layer of selenium. The technology, which has received multiple patents, has been shown to quickly remove nearly all mercury from waterways, lakes and industrial wastewater to below-detectable limits. For one Minnesota lake, the scientists estimated a sponge the size of a basketball would be needed to remove all the mercury.
The sponge binds the mercury into a nontoxic compound ready for nonhazardous waste disposal. The sponge also kills bacterial and fungal microbes.
The research opens new opportunities to clean up rainwater, surface water and groundwater. According to the EPA, cutting mercury emissions would result in 130,000 fewer asthma attacks, 4,700 fewer heart attacks and 11,000 fewer premature deaths each year. That’s at least $37 billion to $90 billion in benefits annually.
The technology also could dramatically reduce the costs of mercury regulations for industry. By 2020, meeting national mercury standards is estimated to cost industry around $9.6 billion annually. The new technology may bring this cost down and make it easier for industry to meet regulatory requirements.