Lasers Can Be Used to Blast Pollutants from Soil

Most of us are familiar with environmental pollution catastrophes that occur on the water, such as the oil spills into the oceans as a result of the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents. But many people don’t realize that soil can, and often does, become heavily polluted, too. In fact, most of the worst cases of extreme pollution are on land, not in the water.

Compounding the problem of soil pollution is the fact that cleaning it up takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. This naturally causes the affected land to be unusable for longer periods of time, if money is ever even found to clean it up at all. Also, until the pollutants are removed, they can continue to affect the plant and animal life in the area.

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But there is good news for those who are concerned about this problem. Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts have developed a new and very sci-fi way of ridding soil of pollutants. They propose to use high-powered infrared lasers to blast the contaminants from the dirt.

This new process has already been tested and found to be successful in removing the contaminant DDE from soil. DDE is a derivative of the infamous pollutant DDT, a pesticide that was banned in the 1970s. This toxic chemical is known to cause cancer and played a large part in decimating the American Bald Eagle population. After blasting the DDE-polluted dirt with the lasers, the researchers performed tests to see how much of the contaminant remained. No trace of it was found.

Traditional methods of dealing with soil pollution typically involve carting the soil off to another site, where it is then cleaned and later returned. One major benefit of using the lasers is that they can be used at the actual site of the pollution, which can save both time and money. Additionally, the old methods rely on solvents or water to wash away the pollutants. Usually, this does not completely get rid of the contaminants. It merely dilutes them. As the researchers’ tests show, the lasers do not appear to have the same issue. They are capable of totally ridding the soil of pollutants.

This new laser method of dealing with polluted land is still in the early stages, and the research team is working on a device to carry the lasers effectively on a large site. Their main idea is to use a plow-like vehicle to pull laser-loaded fiber-optic cables over the polluted land. It is hoped that this device could be used to help decontaminate Superfund that have lain untouched for years due to lack of funds available to clean them up.

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