Removing heavy metals from water

UK scientists have discovered a new and simple way to remove toxic heavy metals from water. 

Prompted by recent publicity surrounding arsenic pollution in the third world, Richard Compton and colleagues from the University of Oxford have come up with a way to eliminate these metals from water.  

The group attached l-cysteine methyl ester - which has a similar structure to the naturally occurring amino acid cysteine - to the surfaces of minute glassy carbon spheres. They then added the compound to water samples containing varying amounts of heavy metals, and stirred the mixtures.  

polluted watercourse

New materials might help clean up polluted water courses


When the glassy carbon spheres were removed the amount of toxic metal in the water was reduced significantly. Carbon spheres without the l-cysteine methyl ester did not remove any metal ions from the water.  

The material worked equally well in samples of polluted river water and in contaminated drinking water, indicating its potential for both removing heavy metals from drinking water and cleaning polluted water courses.  

The group hopes to put its material into commercial development soon. 'This material has the potential to prevent thousands of needless deaths each year,' said Compton. 

Lorna Jack 


G G Wildgoose et alChem. Commun., 2005, 3694  (DOI: 10.1039/b506461a)