Orange Peels May Clean Up the Ocean by Soaking Up Mercury

First Posted: Oct 23, 2015 08:51 AM EDT

Orange peels may be the key to sucking mercury pollution out of the ocean. Scientists have created a material out of industrial waste and orange peel that may be able to cheaply and effectively remove mercury from ocean water.

Mercury pollution has increased steadily in our environment since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In particular, it's contaminated rivers and oceans, affecting animals higher up the food chain. More specifically, a process called "bioaccumulation" plays a major role. This essentially means that the higher up the food chain you go, the higher the concentrations of mercury will be.

"Mercury contamination plagues many areas of the world, affecting both food and water supplies and creating a serious need for an efficient and cost effective method to trap this mercury," said Justin Chalker, the lead researcher. "Until now, there has been no such method, but the new sulphur-limonene polysulfide addresses this urgent need."

The new material is actually a polymer created from sulfur and limonene, which is a substance found in the oily skin of citrus fruits. In addition, both of the major ingredients are leftover waste from petroleum and citrus industries, which means that it can be produced cheaply.

"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 while converting them into a form that is much easier to store so that once the material is 'full' it can easily be removed and replaced," said Chalker.

The findings could be huge for cleaning up the world's oceans, and making waterways a little less polluted.

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