d at removing organics," Walker said, "so we coupled the carbon with membranes. Together, they provide a way for water treatment plants to remove the toxin by basically upgrading the membrane system they already have."
"Microcystis secretes a whole range of toxins, and we only looked at the one we thought would be the most important for health reasons. Then there's a whole host of other toxic algae that secrete their own toxins. I suspect this technology would be pretty effective for all these toxins."
Water treatment plants that already had membranes in place could add carbon to their systems without purchasing new equipment, he added.
Activated carbon is a highly porous form of charcoal that sticks to organic molecules. It's often used to filter water and clean up environmental spills, and it's even administered to poison victims to clean toxins from the digestive tract.
The engineers combined the active carbon with three different commercially available membrane filters to remove microcystin-lr from samples of Lake Erie drinking water. Each combination produced good results: one removed 95 percent of the toxin, one removed 97 percent, and the other removed 99 percent. Without the carbon, even the most effective ultrafiltration membrane removed only 78 percent of the toxin.
This is the first time this technique has been used to remove an algal toxin, and Walker cautioned that more research needs to be done before commercial water treatment plants could adopt it wholesale.
"Microcystis secretes a whole range of toxins, and we only looked at the one we thought would be the most important for health reasons," he said. "Then there's a whole host of other toxic algae that secrete their own toxins. And we don't know if there are synergistic effects between the toxins. Still, I suspect this technology would be pretty effective for all these toxins."
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