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Report: Mercury limits within reach

Updated: April 22, 2012 8:15AM



HAMMOND — A five-year project performed by Purdue University Calumet in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy holds promise that keeping mercury levels safe in the Great Lakes is completely possible.

The school’s Water Institute and its partner, Lemont, Ill.-based Argonne National Laboratory, are still finalizing the report, “Emerging Technologies and Approaches to Minimize Discharges into Lake Michigan,” but the research will prove that existing alternative technologies will meet the Great Lakes Initiative’s requirement of discharging no less than 1.3 parts of mercury per trillion parts of water. Research scientists for both explained during a briefing Tuesday morning that not only can the requirements be met, they can be exceeded.

Best of all, the research conducted will be useful to other industries, agreed co-principal investigators George Nnannaand Christina Negri, director for the Water Institute and Argonne Lab agronomist, respectively.

Started in 2007, the research team looked at 40 different alternative technologies that remove solid waste and ammonia from wastewater during the first phase of the project, Nnanna said. Phase II, a more rigorous and defined phase that added removing selenium, mercury, arsenic and other toxins from it, identified the technologies that looked like they could handle the job.

Through further extensive testing, the team discovered two products — an ultra-filtration filter produced by General Electric and a reactive filtration product by Blue Water — that accomplished their objective of keeping mercury to at most 1.3 parts per trillion and, in some cases, less.

“To put that in perspective, 1.3 ppt is equal to removing 3 seconds from 100,000 years,” Nnanna said.

Each product had their issues, Negri said. The Blue Water product, for example, uses sand in its collection, and while the chemical, Nalmet 1689, added to the sand isn’t harmful, there’s still an issue of what to do with the sand once it’s used; as well, the product’s wash box clogged a few times. And both methods are expensive: The General Electric filter could cost between $39 million and $147 million, though those figures are estimates.

Nevertheless, BP was pleased with the outcome and is awaiting the full report.

“There would be additional work and engineering, so we have to evaluate the recommendations,” said Mitch Beekman, HSSE manager for Whiting Refinery. “It’s way too early for a decision.”

Local environmentalist Lee Botts of Gary was also pleased to hear the results but said they need to be publicized more and in a way the lay person can understand.



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