Natural water purifier discovered at French UNESCO site

27 May, 2014

Image: Stuart Mills

Scientists have discovered a mineral that could be a natural solution to purifying water that is affected by excess nitrate.

Nitrate pollution is caused by fertilizer runoff and is a serious global problem responsible for algal blooms, which are a serious contaminant of many of the world’s water resources, including the Murray-Darling Basin.

The new mineral, known as “mössbauerite”, was discovered on the coastline next to the UNESCO world heritage site and tourism destination, Mont Saint-Michel, in Normandy, France.

The mineral belongs to a group of compounds known as ‘green rust’, and is unknowingly walked on by the 3.5 million tourists who visit the area every year.

Mössbauerite, mixed with other green rust minerals, forms a layer of greenish clay under the sand of the bay.

The green rust minerals play an important role in the natural purification of waters by converting nitrate from the water into harmless nitrogen gas, which is released into the atmosphere.

Dr Stuart Mills, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Museum Victoria, along with Prof Jean-Marie Génin (University of Lorraine), Dr Andrew Christy (ANU) and Dr. Odile Guérin (Sorbonne) are responsible for the discovery.

“Green rusts are already being used to naturally remove algae from major problem areas in Brittany and plans are already in place for using synthetic versions of the mineral in water plants in France,” said Dr Mills.

“This is just the beginning – ongoing research into the properties of green rusts have the potential to shape the way we treat and consume water well into the future.”

Mössbauerite has also been discovered on l'Île d'Aval, one of the localities where King Arthur is thought to be buried.

Mössbauerite is named after Professor Rudolf Ludwig Mössbauer (1928–2011) who won the 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics.

For further media information, interviews or images, please contact:
Claire Fitzgerald, PR Officer Museum Victoria Sciences 0400 130 675 

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