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Best way to clean up toxic plumes? Give 'em a pill

COLUMBUS, Ohio A staple of chemistry classroom demonstrations may offer a solution for cleaning up decades' worth of toxic solvents polluting the environment, new research suggests.

Potassium permanganate is a disinfectant used by water treatment plants, and is sometimes also used to treat pollution stemming from industrial-grade solvents that were buried 30 to 40 years ago.

"But most people who use potassium permanganate to treat pollution pump it into a well in liquid form every day for a couple of months," said Frank Schwartz, a study co-author and a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University. Like salt, potassium permanganate is granular and dissolves when it comes into contact with water.

"There's often no control over where the potassium permanganate goes once it's pumped into an injection well," Schwartz said. "The system is usually just as bad after the treatment as it was before."

So he and his colleagues created solid forms, or chunks, of organic material that contain potassium permanganate. When buried in wet soil, these chunks slowly dissolve over a matter of weeks and months. These chunks allow researchers to better control the distribution of potassium permanganate at a pollution site.

These toxic plumes can extend for miles. Health effects can be severe, with clusters of leukemia cases occasionally developing as people drink contaminated water, Schwartz said.

"We're going after legacy contaminants degreasers and solvents left over from nearly every manufacturer in the 1960s and '70s who made something from metal" he said.

Schwartz conducted the study with David Li, a postdoctoral researcher in geology at Ohio State. Li presented the findings Wednesday in Anaheim at the meeting of the American Chemical Society.

So far, the researchers have only tested the time-released potassium permanganate chunks in laboratory experiments. But the results are promising. They added the c
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Contact: Frank Schwartz
frank@geology.ohio-state.edu
614-292 6196
Ohio State University
31-Mar-2004


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