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Biomedicine

Nullifying Nitrates

Steer clear of nitrates. These nasty waste compounds generated by the industrial use of nitric acid can cause blue baby syndrome in healthy infants or turn a healthy lake into a putrid marsh. Current methods for removing nitrate wastes from ground-water are energy-intensive, expensive, and not always effective. To improve this picture, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory are testing an inexpensive process for converting solid and liquid nitrate wastes into harmless nitrogen gas. Wastewater is pumped through a chamber containing a re-usable metallic catalyst and an acid. The catalyst strips away the oxygen atoms from the nitrates, yielding nitrate-free wastewater and nitrogen gas. Los Alamos is testing the process on 10 different kinds of nitrates and has been inundated with calls from interested mining, chemical, farming and nuclear-power companies.

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