Mercury Contamination In Water Quantifiable With New App

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A simple new method to quantify the level of mercury contamination in potential drinking water has been created by researchers at the University of Burgos. A thin sheet manufactured by the researchers is placed in the water and then changes color in the presence of mercury. The results can then be quantified by taking a picture of the test sheet with a mobile phone and using an app.


Mercury contamination is a significant and growing problem throughout much of the world, but developing countries are currently the most affected by it. Mercury is extremely toxic, causing neurological degeneration, impaired cognitive ability, psychosis, kidney disease, loss of hearing/speech, muscular spasms, death, and birth defects.

Clean water can be difficult to obtain in many parts of the world. While there are effective DIY methods for water filtration and disinfection, such as SODIS, the detection and/or purification of heavy metals and toxic chemicals in drinking water remains a problem.

The new technique was designed by the researchers as a way for the dangerous metal to be detected in water “in a cheap, quick and in situ way,” says José Miguel García, one of the authors of the study.

The method is as simple as placing the newly designed sheet in the water for five minutes. After the five minutes, if it’s red, there’s mercury. “Changes can be seen by the naked eye and anyone, even if they have no previous knowledge, can find out whether a water source is contaminated with mercury above determined limits,” García continues.

One of the best features of the new method is that it allows for the level of mercury contamination to be very easily determined, simply through the use of a smartphone app. You take a photograph of the sheet with a phone or tablet computer’s camera, and then use “the image treatment software (the team used the open access GIMP programme) to see the color coordinates. The result is then compared with reference values.”

The primary sources of man-made mercury pollution in the world are coal-fired power plants and small-scale gold mining.

Over the last century, mercury levels in the top hundred-meter layer of the oceans have doubled, while deep water concentrations have risen by 25%. These fast-increasing levels of pollution pose a substantial threat to many fishing industries. Fish high on the food chain, such as Tuna, may become too toxic to eat in the not too distant future, if their populations don’t collapse first anyways.

The research was just published in the journal Analytical Methods.

Source: Plataforma SINC
Image Credit: J. M. García et al

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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