Featured Environmental Stewardship Impacts

  • SUMMARY: Water Remediation

    Protecting and preserving precious water resources is an urgent issue nationwide. Remediating and...

  • Story: Waste Water

    New approach uses algae to treat city wastewater A more efficient system of wastewater treatment...

  • Story: Wildfires

    Taming wildfires by understanding climate A research team in Missouri has developed a model to...

  • Story: Healthy Livestock

    Healthy waters = healthier livestock Watershed restoration practices benefit livestock producers by...

  • Story: Mercury Sponge

    Mercury-soaking sponge may dramatically impact public health A team of Minnesota researchers has...

  • Story: Bed Bugs

    Battle of the bed bugs has fronts nationwide The battle against bed bugs has land-grant...

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.