Scientists battle harmful water toxins

Oct 08, 2012
Researcher Jeremy Hamilton in the labs at Ulster's Jordanstown campus.

University of Ulster scientists are collaborating with international research partners to develop a new 'clean' technology to destroy water toxins caused by harmful algal blooms.

The research team, which is led by Dr Tony Byrne and includes Dr Patrick Dunlop and Dr Jeremy Hamilton, is based at NIBEC, Ulster's Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre at the Jordanstown campus where is a key research theme.

Dr Byrne explains: "Clean Technology is a term used to describe knowledge-based products or services that improve operational performance, productivity or efficiency, while reducing costs, inputs, , waste or pollution.

"The increase of harmful in estuaries and freshwater aquatic systems around the world is a major global problem because of the serious threat they pose to wildlife, livestock and humans," he said.

The seriousness of the problem on a local scale was highlighted this summer when harmful algal blooms were spotted on Loughbrickland Lake close to Banbridge in Co Down, and Moor Lough near Strabane, Co Tyrone. Both lakes, which are popular with anglers and used for based , were closed to members of the public for several weeks.

Algal blooms occur naturally but not all pose a risk to humans or animals. However, an increased supply of limiting nutrients in water due to pollution will increase the likelihood of .

Dr Tony Byrne continues: "Blooms containing cyanobacteria, sometimes called blue-green algae, can pose a serious threat, as these micro-organisms can produce and release a variety of cyanotoxins. These toxins include hepatotoxins, dermatotoxins, and neurotoxins with extremely high toxicity.

" is a white powder which is used in sunblock, paint, cosmetics and even some food products (E171). It is a non-toxic pigment but when excited by ultra violet light (UV), it becomes a powerful catalyst capable of destroying pollutants in water.

"This process is called photocatalysis and our challenge is to increase the solar efficiency because sunlight contains only a small proportion of UV. We have already demonstrated the destruction of the cyanotoxins under laboratory conditions using new catalysts under solar light but we need to fully understand the mechanism."

Explore further: Fiction prepares us for a world changed by global warming

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

International experts weigh-in on harmful algal blooms

Jan 06, 2009

Cambridge, Md. - An international group of scientists is linking nutrient pollution in the world's coastal seas to an increase in the number of harmful algal blooms reported in recent years. When harmful algal blooms (HAB's) ...

DNA tests could help predict, prevent harmful algal blooms

Sep 30, 2008

A paper published in the current issue of the International Journal of Environment and Pollution, explains how a DNA test can be used to detect harmful algal blooms across the globe. The approach outlined could help reduce ...

Lakes react differently to warmer climate, study finds

Oct 04, 2012

A future warmer climate will produce different effects in different lakes. Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have now been able to explain that the effects of climate change depend on what organisms are dominant ...

If the water looks and smells bad, it may be toxic

Sep 13, 2010

Earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs. In a newly published ...

Recommended for you

Drought may take toll on Congo rainforest, study finds

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new analysis of NASA satellite data shows Africa's Congo rainforest, the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, has undergone a large-scale decline in greenness over the past decade.

User comments : 0

More news stories

On global warming, settled science and George Brandis

The Australian Attorney General, Senator George Brandis is no stranger to controversy. His statement in parliament that "people do have a right to be bigots" rapidly gained him notoriety, and it isn't hard to understand why ...

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.