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Cleaning up chemicals

Atrazine is the most common weed killer found in Quebec surface water, which prompted the research

A group of Quebec researchers, at that province’s Institut National De La Recherche Scientifique, say they’ve identified an effective way to remove the pesticide atrazine from surface water.

Atrazine, widely used as a weed killer, is known to have harmful effects on aquatic wildlife and presents a risk to human health by altering the action of certain hormones, according to some studies.

In a study published recently in Water Research, a team led by INRS professor, Patrick Drogui compare various processes used to degrade atrazine.

A process known as photo-electron-Fenton (or PEF) seems particularly effective for removing low concentrations of atrazine and its byproducts in surface water sampled from agricultural areas.

More than 99 per cent of the atrazine was removed following just 15 minutes of treatment in prepared samples, reducing the concentration of the product to below detectable levels.

In natural surface water samples where the product was found, the results were very similar, with reductions ranging from 96 to 99 per cent. The findings pave the way for more work that could see the technique leave the lab for real-world application, Drogui said.

“The challenge is to develop low-cost industrial technologies that can be used to treat large volumes of water and simultaneously remove micropollutants like pesticides and their metabolites, which can be more toxic than the original compounds,” he said.

Although PEF is a clean, effective technology, it will take some more work to combine it with a biological treatment process in a water treatment plant and make it more energy efficient.

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