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Nanotech Cleanup

What is being done to clean up the nation's toxic waste?

barrels of toxic waste seen through a fence

Photo: Jeremy Brooks

There are over 300,000 toxic waste sites across the country.

Did you know that there are over 300,000 toxic waste sites across the country?

Military bases, airports, or anywhere there’s a factory or some kind of industry you get toxic chemicals leeching into the soil and contaminating groundwater.

What’s being done to clean it up?

There are some conventional methods, such as pumping toxic water up to the surface and siphoning out the chemicals. However that method is expensive, and you still have to get rid of the waste somehow.

Some scientists at Rice University are working on alternate ways to clean up hazardous waste using nanotechnology to detoxify soil and water.

Michael Wong, who’s a chemical engineer at Rice, uses particles made of gold and a metal called palladium that are just four nanometers across. That’s about 20 or so atoms per particle.

Palladium alone is pretty good at breaking down toxic chemicals, particularly a common one called trichloroethylene, or TCE. However, when you put palladium and gold together, the particles break down TCE even faster and render it non-toxic. Plus, using these nano clean-up particles could be a lot cheaper than conventional water purifying methods.

The nano-particles not only detoxify groundwater, but also actually get rid of the dangerous chemicals by breaking them down. Also, it’s less expensive to do this than what we do now.

The next step is to get the nano particles out of the lab and into ground to make all those waste sites less hazardous.

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