A new method to clean dioxins and other hazardous materials from water has been recently developed in Syria. Dr Abdulsamie Hanano, who
works for the molecular biology department of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission in Damascus and his collaborators (including Denis Murphy of the University
of South Wales) found a way to use the stones of dates, a by-product of the fruit-packing industry, to absorb dioxins from aqueous solutions.
Dioxins are environmental pollutants that belong to the “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The
have highly toxic potential and affect a number of organs and systems. Dioxins last a long time in living organisms, due to their chemical stability
and their affinity to fat tissue. They can live in the body for up to eleven years, according to the World Health Organisation. In the marine environment,
dioxins accumulate in the food web, especially in predators, due to bioaccumulation and bio-magnification processes.
Dioxins are by-products of a wide range of manufacturing processes, and whilst their production and release to the environment is local, their distribution
is global. The highest levels of dioxins can be found in soil and marine sediment, and also in food (dairy products, meat, fish and shellfish), although
they are also ubiquitous in air and water.
The method developed by Dr Hanano – remarkably, in a country devastated by civil war and foreign military intervention – is based on a new approach to
extract phospholipids from the natural oils contained in date stones, and use them to form an emulsion in water. In test results reported in Frontiers
in Plant Science, the oil droplets in the emulsion removed dioxins from water within a minute. Once absorbed, they can be removed by simply scooping
up the droplets, which will rise to the surface of the water due to their density.
The original idea for the practical use of this method is to clean up fish farms and aqueous effluents. There is also potential for treating water resulting
from the processing of on-land contaminated dredged sediment. If a method to recover the droplets from the contaminated sediment itself is developed,
it could open an economically viable option to the costly disposal of contaminated dredge material at licensed disposal sites on land.