A technological innovation from West Virginia.
Team Finds New Way to Strip Mercury from Water
Posted Thursday, January 3, 2008 ; 06:00 AM
A group of researchers at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology has developed a relatively inexpensive method for removing mercury from water.
Story by Paul Darst
MONTGOMERY -- Coal sludge ponds dot the landscape of West Virginia and other mining areas across the country.
Although they might look peaceful enough, the water contained in those ponds contains a deadly poison -- mercury, one of the most lethal substances on earth. Because mercury is difficult and expensive to remove from water, government and industry have avoided the issue for the most part.
Now a group of researchers at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology has developed a relatively inexpensive method for removing mercury from water.
"It's a chemical process that makes it possible to collect and dispose of (mercury)," said Richard Schoening, associate professor and chairman of the chemistry department.
Researchers at the university discovered a bacteria that is indigenous to West Virginia that is attracted to mercury 2+, a deadly compound of the element, he said. For the past two years, the research team has worked with that bacteria to develop a process to remove the compound from water.
"It's a biochemical reaction," Schoening said. "... The idea is that we can then regenerate the bacteria that 'eat' mercury.
"We collected bacteria from a local holding pond and built it up to hold a lot more (mercury). It changes mercury 2+ to mercury 0, metal mercury."