Orange peels could combat mercury pollution, a recent study published on October 20 in the German journal Angewandte Chemie has shown.
Researchers from Flinders University in South Australia have invented a synthetic polymer called sulfur-limonene polysulfide, which is created out of sulfur (a by-product of the petroleum industry) and limonene (a hydrocarbon found in orange peels and used for producing orange oil).
As its creators have humorously said, this type of polymer ” literally grows on trees” and has the appearance of a soft, reddish rubber.
The innovative substance has been proven successful in absorbing mercury and other heavy metals from the water. For example, the material can be employed in coating water drain pipes, or when it comes to other larger water bodies.
It can be used in order to detect mercury, because it turns bright yellow in its presence, or it can assist in large-scale environmental cleanups following dangerous mercury spills.
Removing mercury is essential, because its toxic presence can affect water and food supplies, as the chemical seeps into sea and soil and is absorbed by plants and fish, in a process called biomagnification.
Moreover, its organic compounds (dimethylmercury and methylmercury) can result in acute and chronic poisoning.
Ingesting contaminated shellfish and fish or breathing mercury-polluted air can cause extensive damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, lungs and kidneys, especially among young children and pregnant women.
For instance, according to a National Research Council Report published in 2000, over 60,000 children born every year risk developing neurodevelopmental disorders after having been exposed to methylmercury while in utero.
That is why it’s so vital for scientists to devise a solution for purifying contaminated water and curbing the impact of industrial pollution.
The findings are highly promising due to the fact that limonene and sulfur are both available in high quantities, so the newly invented material is extremely cost-effective and convenient.
On an annual basis, more than 77 million tons of sulfur result from the burning of fossil fuels in the oil and gas industry, and 77,000 tons of limonene are produced by the citrus industry.
“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”, declared Justin Chalker, material scientist and study lead author.
As he explained, these by-products can be converted into something that can actually be beneficial to the ecosystem. Also, the polymer has been tested for toxicity, and it was determined it can be safely and easily stored, after it has absorbed all the troublesome contaminants.
Currently the team of experts is conducting follow-up research in order to manufacture this type of environment-friendly and cost-effective material on an industrial scale.
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