Researcher makes polymer that absorbs mercury pollution

Mercury is present at pollution levels all over the globe, including in lakes and oceans where it renders fish inedible. Cleaning up that mercury pollution isn't easy, however, being too cost or time intensive to be practical in some places. A researcher may have come up with a solution to the problem, developing an inexpensive polymer that absorbs mercury out of water and more, changing colors as it does.

The new polymer was developed by Flinders University's Dr. Justin Chalker; it is described as being "dirt cheap" and is itself non-toxic. The polymer is made from limonene and sulphur, both of which are plentiful waste products. The material is dark red when first made, but turns a bright yellow color as it absorbs mercury out of the environment.

Mercury is extremely toxic, causing damage to the human nervous system when consumed — and, unfortunately, damaging levels can be consumed simply by eating contaminated fish. This newest development is exciting because it is feasible to use at a large scale due to both low costs and highly available materials.

Limonene is found mostly in orange peels, and so is produced in large quantities by the citrus industry. Sulphur, meanwhile, exists in massive quantities due to being a byproduct of the petroleum industry. The new polymer finds an environmentally-friendly use for both of those materials. Finally, because the polymer turns yellow, that color-changing function allows it to double as a way to test whether mercury is present in any given location.

SOURCE: Flinders University