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October 23rd, 2009
Scientists and environmental regulators are hoping that some extremely tiny materials might make a huge difference in hazardous waste cleanups.
Researchers are exploring whether nanoscale materials -- so named because they are as small as 1/100,000 the width of a human hair -- can be cleanup assets. They have two reasons for optimism: Nanomaterials' size lets them penetrate otherwise impossible-to-reach groundwater or soil, and their engineered coatings allow them to stay suspended in groundwater, a major asset in cleanups.
If they work, nanomaterials could slash cleanup prices by avoiding the extraordinary costs and risks of hauling materials away for burning or burial.
"There is significant potential to target a number of very complicated sites that to date we have been unable to remediate adequately," said Denis O'Carroll, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Western Ontario.
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