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Mopping up mercury - a new solution to an old problem

A pilot plant employing a new type of bioreactor has successfully been used to treat mercury-contaminated wastewater in Germany.

Dr Irene Wagner-Döbler and colleagues from the GBF National Research Centre for Biotechnology, Germany, developed the technical scale plant based on previous work on mercury-resistant bacteria. Biofilms of bacteria were used in packed bed bioreactors to treat chemical water containing mercury in a highly toxic form. The bacteria possess a powerful detoxification mechanism that converts mercury to a less toxic, water insoluble metallic form.

Dr Wagner- Döbler is presenting details of the clean-up technique at the Society for Experimental Biology Meeting in Canterbury on 2 April. Biofilm communities containing multiple species will be shown to be the most effective, where different strains are optimally adapted to the range of mercury concentrations in water.

No remediation treatment for mercury-contaminated soils exists. Current chemical and physical techniques for removing mercury from wastewater are very expensive. Mercury pollution remains a significant problem because of the metal's extreme toxicity and accumulation in the food chain.

A public release from Society for Experimental Biology in April 2001, viewed from Biology-Online.org.


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