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New Method For Destroying Potentially Deadly Toxins In Drinking Water

Poisonous Substances Produced By Blue-Green Algae Can Attack Liver

A new, more effective method for destroying potentially deadly toxins called microcystins that can be found in drinking water has been announced by researchers in Scotland. Microcystins are produced by blue-green algae, which can grow in reservoirs, lakes and other bodies of water that are used for municipal drinking water. Blue-green algae, often referred to as pond scum but known scientifically as cyanobacteria, can be found in all areas of the world.

The detoxification method, which uses titanium dioxide and light to destroy the toxins, is described in the Jan. 26 web edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The research article is scheduled to appear in the March 1 print issue of the semi-monthly journal.

When titanium dioxide, a white powder commonly used in sun creams and paints, is added to water and exposed to light, it becomes active and destroys the toxins.

Known specifically as microcystin-LR (cyanobacterial hepatotoxins), the toxins are "very difficult to destroy" with normal water purification methods, according to the article's lead author, Linda Lawton, Ph.D., of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. Acute exposure to the toxic microcystins produced by the algae can cause liver damage and is fatal in extreme cases, according to the article. Approximately 50 dialysis patients in Brazil died in 1996 "due to the use of microcystin-contaminated water in their treatment," notes Lawton. Long-term exposure is thought to contribute to liver cancer, the article states.

In the U.S., the risk of humans getting ill or dying from microcystins in drinking water is relatively low, says Wayne Carmichael, Ph.D., a professor of aquatic biology and toxicology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, a
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Contact: Charmayne Marsh
y_marsh@acs.org
202-872-4445
American Chemical Society
3-Feb-1999


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