Scientists develop material to remove radioactive contaminants from drinking water

Apr 13, 2011

A combination of forest byproducts and crustacean shells may be the key to removing radioactive materials from drinking water, researchers from North Carolina State University have found.

"As we're currently seeing in , one of the major health risks posed by nuclear accidents is radioactive iodide that dissolves into drinking water. Because it is chemically identical to non-radioactive iodide, the human body cannot distinguish it – which is what allows it to accumulate in the thyroid and eventually lead to cancer," says Dr. Joel Pawlak, associate professor of forest biomaterials. "The material that we've developed binds iodide in water and traps it, which can then be properly disposed of without risk to humans or the environment."

The new material - a combination of hemicellulose, a byproduct of forest materials, and chitosan, crustacean shells that have been crushed into a powder - not only absorbs water, but can actually extract contaminates, such as radioactive , from the water itself. This material, which forms a solid foam, has applications beyond . Pawlak and fellow researchers found that it has the ability to remove heavy metals – such as arsenic – from water or salt from sea water to make clean drinking water.

"In disaster situations with limited-to-no power source, desalinating drinking water is difficult, if not impossible. This foam could be brought along in such situations to clean the water without the need for electricity," Pawlak says. "This material could completely change the way we safeguard the world's supply."

The foam, which is coated on wood fibers, is used like a sponge that is immersed in water. For smaller-scale applications, the could be used in something like a tea bag. Or on a larger scale, water could be poured through it like a filter.

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Soylent_Grin
not rated yet Apr 13, 2011
This is wonderful news!

...I wonder, however, if the foam could be used as a radiation accumulator. Leave it in the ocean, for instance, and let it accumulate dangerous amounts of toxic materials over time that would otherwise be inaccessible in large quantities.
gvgoebel
not rated yet Apr 13, 2011
There has been research in obtaining nuclear fuels from the ocean waters. It's not a particularly efficient, but the activity is relatively easy to conceal.
Jimee
not rated yet Apr 15, 2011
Dilution of toxic material might be extremely fast, and the ocean does have a great deal of water to deal with. Applications to drinking water might be more feasible. Would protection (or cleansing outflow) of the contents of small creeks, rivers, and estuaries be in the cards?