One way to clean up hazardous heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury in contaminated materials could be to use waste from the processing and canning of onions (Allium cepa L.) and garlic (Allium sativum L.)

Biotechnologists Rahul Negi, Gouri Satpathy, Yogesh Tyagi and Rajinder Gupta of the GGS Indraprastha University in Delhi studied the influence of acidity or alkalinity, contact time, temperature and concentration of the different materials present to optimize conditions for making a biological heavy metal filter for industrial-scale decontamination.

They found that at 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the efficiency of the clean-up process is largely dependent on pH (acidity or alkalinity) and equilibration time usually occurs within half an hour; a pH of 5 was optimal. They demonstrated the maximum extraction was achievable for lead, one of the most troublesome metallic environmental pollutants.

They could extract more than 10 milligrams per gram of Allium material from a test solution containing 5 grams per liter of mixed metal ion solution, amounting to recovery efficiency of more than 70%. The absorbed metals can be released into a collecting vessel using nitric acid and the biomass reused.

The team experimented with Allium biomass to demonstrated effective removal of heavy metals from both simulated and actual industrial effluents.

"The technique appears to be industrially applicable and viable," they suggest. "This may provide an affordable, environmental friendly and low maintenance technology for small and medium scale industries in developing countries," they conclude.


Published in the International Journal of Environment and Pollution.