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Study shows live spirulina effective at removing lead from wastewater

Tuesday, April 01, 2014 by: PF Louis
Tags: spirulina, lead removal, wastewater

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(NaturalNews) This study was performed in China, where there is a very high level of toxic heavy metal residue from less regulated industries and coal-burning energy plants. The necessity of removing heavy metal toxins from waste water is more vital in China than most other regions.

Waterways and water used for agricultural irrigation has been overwhelmed by heavy metals from relatively unregulated industries and coal-burning energy plants that have been rushed into production to accommodate China's rapid economic and industrial growth.

Prior to this spirulina lead removal study, other studies were done with positive results using spirulina and live algae in aqueous solutions of other heavy metals. These studies using live algae biomass for biosorption of heavy metals rather than merely collecting it have been performed to address the drawbacks of removing toxins with synthetic chemicals.

The chemical drawback is obvious: some toxins are being replaced by others, such as chlorine for removing pathogens. The key difference between biosorption and bioaccumulation is adsorption versus absorption. Adsorption (biosorption) is the process of molecules binding to a surface, whereupon they are neutralized and removed as harmless compounds.

Absorption (bioaccumulation) is the process of molecules entering and permeating a material. This removes toxins by collecting them and leaving a toxic residue or sludge that needs to be handled without causing more ecological harm. An example of that is the toxic fluoride sludge that is collected by phosphate plant smokestack scrubbers to keep the toxic gases out of the air. Righteously and reasonably, the EPA won't allow that toxic sludge to be dumped into waterways or landfills.

So it gets sold to local water companies and mixed into the water supply at diluted levels to "prevent tooth decay." What a deal, instead of costing more to find a solution for fluoride toxins, they get to sell it at a profit!

The problems with that are that it doesn't prevent tooth decay and daily doses of diluted amounts accumulate and collect at toxic levels in humans over time. Most mammals do drink water daily, after all. The nuclear power industry has similar toxic waste issues.

So biosorption with various live biomass substances, including live algae, has become an area of focus for research now.

The Chinese study

Here's the conclusion of the Chinese study, "Bioremediation potential of spirulina: toxicity and biosorption studies of lead":

[S]pirulina's rapid lead adsorption rate and high lead adsorption capacity made them well suited for the removal of lead in wastewater. ... [L]iving cells of spirulina were found to have high tolerance to lead and... [are] an attractive adsorbate option for the biosorption of heavy metal contaminant. However, there are still many uncertainties associated with the development of treating wastewater by living algae and more future work is necessary.

Key words are rapid, high tolerance, adsorbate and the phrase "many uncertainties associated with the development of treating wastewater."

They did discover that almost 75% of lead in the solution was removed within the first 12 minutes (rapid) of mixing the spirulina with the aqueous lead solution.

And they observed that, although higher amounts of lead in the solution did inhibit spirulina cell growth at first, the spirulina recovered and continued to mount its attack on lead molecules, exhibiting high tolerance to the lead's toxicity.

Perhaps even more important is that, because of those attributes, spirulina qualifies as an adsorbent for removing heavy metal toxins. The process of biosorption with adsorption (not absorption) leaves little or no waste material behind to demand further isolation solutions.

One of the devils in the details concerning "many uncertainties" involves the logistics of actually applying this process to industrial heavy metal waste removal. The lab study involved small amounts in 250-ml or 8.5-ounce enclosed canisters just under half-way filled.

Very large containers need to be used industrially, and whether the amounts of live spirulina would be available and cost-effective need to be addressed. Here's hoping that they do work through those uncertainties sometime.

But at least you have some assurance that algae such as spirulina and chlorella can be used to safely reduce the heavy metal content accumulation in your body's tissues.

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