Design and Analysis

“Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More

17 March 2017

University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences (CFANS) Professor Abdennour Abbas and his lab team created a sponge that can absorb mercury from a polluted water source within seconds. Thanks to the application of nanotechnology, the team developed a sponge with outstanding mercury adsorption properties where mercury contamination can be removed from tap, lake and industrial wastewater to below detectable limits in less than five seconds (or around five minutes for industrial wastewater). The sponge converts the contamination into a non-toxic complex so it can be disposed of in a landfill after use. The sponge also kills bacterial and fungal microbes.

The white sponge was obtained from a local store. After modification with nanotechnology, the same sponge, now red, captures mercury and kills microbes.The white sponge was obtained from a local store. After modification with nanotechnology, the same sponge, now red, captures mercury and kills microbes.

For example: If Como Lake was contaminated with mercury at the EPA limit, the sponge needed to remove all of the mercury would be the size of a basketball.

This is an important advancement for the state of Minnesota, as more than two thirds of the waters on Minnesota’s 2004 Impaired Waters List are impaired because of mercury contamination that ranges from 0.27 to 12.43 ng/L (the EPA limit is 2 ng/L). Mercury contamination of lake water results in mercury accumulation in fish, leading the Minnesota Department of Health to establish fish consumption guidelines. A number of fish species store-bought or caught in Minnesota lakes are not advised for consumption more than once a week or even once a month. In Minnesota’s North Shore, 10 percent of tested newborns had mercury concentrations above the EPA reference dose for methylmercury (the form of mercury found in fish). This means that some pregnant women in the Lake Superior region, and in Minnesota, have mercury exposures that need to be reduced. In addition, a reduced deposition of mercury is projected to have economic benefits reflected by an annual state willingness-to-pay of $212 million in Minnesota alone.

According to the U.S. EPA, cutting mercury emissions to the latest established effluent limit standards would result in 130,000 fewer asthma attacks, 4,700 fewer heart attacks, and 11,000 fewer premature deaths each year. That adds up to at least $37 billion to $90 billion in annual monetized benefits annually.

In addition to improving air and water quality, aquatic life and public health, the new technology would have an impact on inspiring new regulations. Technology shapes regulations, which in turn determine the value of the market. The 2015 EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standards regulation was estimated to cost the industry around $9.6 billion annually in 2020. The new U of M technology may potentially bring this cost down and make it easy for the industry to meet regulatory requirements.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@ieeeglobalspec.com


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Discussion – 9 comments

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Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#1
2017-Mar-17 10:47 PM

With the use of these sponges, they should be able to reduce the funding for the cleanup of the Great Lakes by at least 90%.

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#2
In reply to #1
PFR
2017-Mar-22 9:09 AM

With the use of these sponges, they should be able to reduce the mercury levels in the great lakes, possibly to acceptable levels, which may result in reduced expenditures.

See how their is a hierarchy in my sentence that prioritizes health over taxes?

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#3
In reply to #2
2017-Mar-22 1:09 PM

I see it. That's great, but did you know that both the Democrats and the Republicans are opposing reducing the budget for this cleanup? Couldn't be some money under the table, could there?

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#4
In reply to #3
PFR
2017-Mar-22 1:35 PM

They are both opposing reducing it? Says who?

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#5
In reply to #4
2017-Mar-22 6:35 PM

I didn't say all Republicans, but some are. A few names are listed here:

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/michigan/articles/2017-03-17/republicans-join-democrats-against-trumps-great-lakes-cuts

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#6
In reply to #5
PFR
2017-Mar-22 6:59 PM

Thanks Good article. I am confused, though. Do you disagree with the cleanup, or do you see some bad science that convinces you that the mercury levels are not dangerous, or what do you propose?

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#7
In reply to #2
2017-Mar-23 10:27 AM

"See how their there is a hierarchy in my sentence that prioritizes health over taxes?"

I'm not opposed to the cleanup at all. Since I don't live in the area, I'm not informed of all the issues, but I think the companies who polluted the lakes should provide the money, not the taxpayers. Do you have fake news that says the taxpayers polluted the lakes?

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#8
2017-Mar-29 10:21 AM

Interesting technology and sans politics would be a good positive step if it can be scaled up for a watershed as big as the Great Lakes. However it is only one of a multitude of contaminants impacting this water resource including but not limited to plastic micro beads and other plastics processed through sewage treatment plants, raw municipal and industrial sewage from outdated or under capacity sewage treatment systems, PCB's agricultural runoff causing oxygen depleting deadly algea blooms and the list goes on and on.

Re: “Super Sponge” Promises Effective Toxic Clean-Up of Lakes and More
#9
In reply to #8
PFR
2017-Mar-29 2:15 PM

I am at a loss to understand the prevalent (evidently) motivation to avoid cleanup unless you can identify the polluters, that is like saying I am not going to repair a flat tire until I find what I ran over. The fix is very likely to be at taxpayer expense, and the obvious solution is to enact strict regulatory oversight of industry in order to avoid future issues, or more intelligently identify offenders. You simply cannot have effective policy without enforcement. We may have had poor enforcement before, but now we have even less policy. So let's vote for the guy who wants to roll back the primary agency responsible for regulating the environment. EPA is quite descriptive. So polluters either make less money, or consumers will pay more for what they produce, or some combination of the two. I know, that is unacceptable.

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