Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is a chemical element that is naturally found in nature. However, human activity has driven it into the water and soil, creating a toxic combination for people and the planet. Recently, specialties chemical company Albemarle Corporation announced the development of a breakthrough product that captures mercury, offering a way to reduce mercury levels in the soil, water and food chain.
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The product is called MercLok, and works as an amendment that immobilizes mercury, stopping it from traveling through soil and into groundwater. The company claims the product is safe to both humans and the environment when properly applied. The company said, “MercLok is non-hazardous to workers who handle the product with the recommended personal protective equipment, and it is safe for the ecological environment when used as intended.”
Related: As ocean temperatures rise, so does mercury exposure in seafood
If MercLok works as the company claims, it’s a huge step in removing mercury from polluted areas, such as abandoned and currently-used mines. Obviously it’s beneficial to sequester the neurotoxin rather than allowing human and animal exposure.
“Mercury is known as quicksilver for a reason,” said Jon Miller, Research and Technology advisor, Albemarle. “It’s dangerously mobile, working its way through soil, water, air, into the food chain and into our tissues and nervous system. MercLok immobilizes the poison, meaning it’s locked down to avoid harm in the environment or to humans.”
Mining waste is a major contributing source of mercury, which then travels into the ocean, polluting the fish we rely on for food. Therefore, cleaning up this highly problematic chemical is beneficial to humans and animals alike.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has had its eye on the dangers of mercury for decades. Miners have long-been exposed to the element and suffered illness and even death as a result.
According to the EPA, “Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system of people of all ages. High levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of babies developing in the womb and young children may harm their developing nervous systems, affecting their ability to think and learn.”
Of course, humans aren’t the only ones to feel the impact of mercury pollution. Animals up and down the food chain are affected as well. Birds and mammals that eat fish have the highest levels of exposure, but their predators are also at risk.
The EPA reports, “Methylmercury has been found in eagles, otters and endangered Florida panthers. At high levels of exposure, methylmercury’s harmful effects on these animals include death, reduced reproduction, slower growth and development, abnormal behavior.”
While the material was once mined to use in batteries, fluorescent lights, lye, chlorine, felt production, thermometers and barometers, once the health effects were realized, scientists found alternative options for these and other products.
However, the residual mercury still exists. To make matters worse, modern day mining still produces mercury as a bi-product. Plus, countless abandoned mines sit, surrounded in measurable mercury that is being flushed into the ecosystem by rainwater. This is the water animals rely on as well as the water used for the crops we eat.
With mercury being difficult to capture and costly to dispose of, Albemarle’s MercLok offers a promising solution to the problem. The company reported, “MercLok is proven to sequester elemental and ionic mercury in the environment by capturing and stabilizing the mercury, thus reducing leachability by more than 95%.” At least one case study has shown that “MercLok can reduce methylmercury concentration in treated media by over 99%.”
MercLok soil treatment can be applied to contaminated areas in a variety of ways. It can be applied using existing remediation techniques, including in-situ mechanical blending and direct-push injection. It can also be injected to form permeable reactive groundwater barriers.
“As a values-driven company, we pride ourselves on innovating products that minimize negative impacts to the environment and surrounding communities,” said Mark de Boer, vice president of Sustainability, Albemarle. “Our new MercLok technology is another proof point in our efforts for making the world safe and sustainable.”
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