Minneapolis, MN (KROC-AM News) - The University of Minnesota is reporting a significant advance in the field of environmental clean-up.

The school’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences has created a “super sponge” for quickly and safely cleaning mercury from polluted water. A news release from the University says Professor Abdennour Abbas and his team used nanotechnology to develop a sponge that absorbs mercury and converts the toxic element into a non-toxic compound, which means a regular landfill can be used to dispose of the used sponges.

The news release used Lake Elmo in the Twin Cities to illustrate the absorbency of the sponge, which also kills bacteria and fungus. If the lake were found to be contaminated at the EPA limit for mercury, the researchers contend all that would be needed for effective clean-up would be a sponge the size of a basketball.

The potential benefits are staggering. Mercury contamination has become a major problem in the Land of 10,000 lakes. Minnesota’s 2004 Impaired Waters List indicates two-thirds of the lakes and other waterways in the state are impaired because of elevated mercury levels. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates reducing mercury exposure could save between $37 billion and $90 billion in related health care costs.

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