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Radioactive Water: Tea Bags To The Rescue

RALEIGH, N.C (Ivanhoe Newswire) –It has been five months since a deadly earthquake hit Japan, creating a nuclear disaster of frightening proportions. Within days, the water was contaminated with radioactive iodide, a contaminant that can present a serious health risk. Now, scientists here in the U.S believe they’ve found a new way to remove, not just radiation, but other potentially hazardous contaminants to make sure water is safe to drink.

Janet Chadwick never goes out for a hike without her water. But it’s not straight out of the tap. She filters every drop.

“There’s multiple organisms that are in the water, different minerals that we don’t want an abundance of,” Janet Chadwick, a woman who filters her own water, told Ivanhoe.

We count on our tap water to be clean and safe to drink, but contamination is a continuing concern.

“It’s definitely an environmental issue I mean across the world,” Chadwick said.

The earthquake in Japan raised an even bigger issue-- radioactivity. But NC State physicist, Dr. Joel Pawlak may have the solution: biodegradable foam. It works like a gooey sponge to pull salt, heavy metals and even radioactive materials like potassium iodide that don’t dissolve out of water.

“And we really think it’ll work for a lot of the other ions that are created from the nuclear reaction,” Joel Pawlak, Ph.D., a paper physicist at NC State University told Ivanhoe.

The foam is made from combination of hemicellulose, a by-product of the wood pulp industry, and chitosan that is typically found in crushed crustacean or crab shells. The material can be functionalized to remove contaminants.

“The material itself isn’t selective for radioactive materials, what it’s actually doing is taking out dissolved ions inside,” Dr. Pawlak said.

In a disaster, it could be as simple to use as a tea bag.

“You take a cup of water, place your tea bag into the water and it’ll remove the salt from the water, it’ll remove the heavy metal from the water, and hopefully it’ll remove that radioactivity from the water as well,” Pawlak explained.

One liter of the foam can turn a hundred liters of contaminated water into safe drinking water. It’s physics and material science that could save lives. The foam may also offer a new option for turning salt water into water that’s safe to drink. Funding for this research comes from several sources, including the U.S Department of Energy.

The Materials Research Society and the American Physical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science and View Video or contact:

Joel Pawlak, PhD
Paper Physicist
Forest Biomaterials
Associate Professor
North Carolina State University

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