Researchers Accidentally Discover That Orange Peels Can Suck Mercury From Polluted Water

Researchers at Flinders University discovered that a plastic-like substance made entirely from sulphur and limonene has the ability to suck mercury out of the water.

Credit: Flinton University

Credit: Flinders University


Mercury is a dangerous pollutant you want to keep out of your body and the food supply. Not only do high levels of the heavy metal affect the human nervous system, it is especially poisonous for children (high levels of mercury are also why many cite vaccines to be so harmful to those who receive them).

It is well known that leafy green vegetables help detoxify heavy metals from the body, but how do you remove mercury from polluted waterways? According to Dr. Justin Chalker and a team of researchers from Flinders University, a process of combining the oil from orange peels and industrial waste can do the trick.

ABC News reports that Dr. Chalker and the team ‘accidentally discovered’ that a plastic-like substance they created, which is made entirely from sulphur and limonene has the ability to suck mercury out of the water.

“We take sulphur, which is a by-product of the petroleum industry, and we take limonene, which is the main component of orange oil, so is produced in large quantities by the citrus industry, and we’re able to react them together to form a type of soft red rubber, and what this material does is that it can grab mercury out of the water,” Dr Chalker said.“So we are taking waste material and making a polymer from it that can remove mercury from water.”

The materials needed to make the polymer are very inexpensive, which means large quantities can be deployed at a site of contamination, in rivers, lakes and other waterways.

The team also did extensive toxicity studies to ensure the polymer itself is not harmful to the environment.

“That gives us hope that we’ll be able to commercialise and actually use this in the environment,” Dr Chalker said.

The researchers are also considering using the polymer as a coating to line pipes and other devices that are used to transport water or to be used as part of a water filtration device.

Impressively, the substance changes color when it comes into contact with and absorbs mercury, which means it could also be used to detect whether waterways are polluted.

Mercury toxicity is no joke, but thankfully a cool solution now exists to help remove it from the water.

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