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Nanocatalysts could remove nitrites from drinking water

December 02, 2013
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<photocredit>Researchers at Rice University have found that gold and palladium nanoparticles can rapidly break down nitrites. CREDIT: M.S. Wong/Rice University</photocredit>

Researchers at Rice University in Houston, Texas, have developed a method to reduce the level of nitrites in drinking water by using nanocatalysts, the university announced.

The catalysts can easily break down nitrites that are often found in drinking water as a result of fertilizer contamination. According to the Environmental Protection Agency nitrites and nitrates pose a threat to public health, so the federal agency imposes stringent regulation on their levels in drinking water. At present the compounds are removed by using filters and resins but the process is too expensive for many treatment facilities.

According to lead researcher Michael Wong the presence of nitrites and nitrates in drinking water is a serious problem in many areas of the United States. The extensive research on gold and palladium nanocatalysts that the team had been carrying out for years proved that they were much more efficient in breaking down nitrates and nitrites than other catalysts known so far, he added.

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The discovery was made after researchers had examined the effect of nanocatalysts on chlorinated solvents and wanted to move on to look at other possible applications for palladium catalysts. The nanocatalysts that succeeded in removing nitrite contaminants were made of a solid gold core, partially wrapped in palladium. Wong explained that the exact mechanism in which the compounds are broken down is still not clear but stated that the team was testing several theories.

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