Industrial waste and orange peels could prove integral in combating harmful mercury contamination, according to new research.
Devised by Flinders University's Justin Chalker, a new non-toxic polymer is composed primarily of sulphur and limonene - readily available byproducts of the petroleum and citrus industries, respectively.
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Annually, the two industries produce more than 77 million tons of sulphur and 77 thousand tons of limonene that could be inexpensively re-purposed.
The polymer, which can detect and remove mercury in both soil and water, turns bright yellow in the presence of the harmful element. Possible applications of the product include large-scale environmental cleanup and coating for pipes that transport water.
"Mercury contamination plagues many areas of the world, affecting both food and water supplies and creating a serious need for an efficient and cost effective method to trap this mercury," Chalker explained in news release.
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"Not only is this new polymer good for solving the problem of mercury pollution, but it also has the added environmental bonus of putting this waste material to good use while converting them into a form that is much easier to store so that once the material is ‘full' it can easily be removed and replaced."
A proven neurotoxin, mercury can impact the functioning of the brain and central nervous system.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, "Mercury is emitted to the air by power plants, cement plants, certain chemical manufacturers and other industrial facilities."
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At one point, mercury was also commonly used in a variety of household products such as thermometers and thermostats.
In recent years, experts have raised concern over the amount of mercury present in fish; through a process known as biomagnification, mercury can accumulate in large quantities in fish and other predators at the top of the food chain.
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