Water lilies absorb heavy metal pollution

Recent experiments have shown water lilies to be capable of absorbing large quantities of heavy metals through their leaves and roots.

The research was conducted by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Agricultural Botany. The research team showed that water lilies thrive in water containing high concentrations of heavy metals, such as cadmium, and are capable of absorbing metals to up to 16% of their dry weight. This could allow water lilies to be used both to restore the purity of rivers and water sources polluted with poisonous heavy metals and as a means for treating waste water originating from household or industrial sources.

The research team responsible for the discovery is headed by Prof. Elisha Tel-Or and includes doctoral student Noa Lavid and three master’s degree students: Eldad Sokolovsky, Tamar Shor and Zvi Keilen.

Noa Lavid, a member of Kibbutz Hazorea, participated in the establishment of a water-lily farm there, where the plants are grown in fresh water for export. In her doctoral studies at The Hebrew University, she has focused her research on testing the water lily’s ability to purify waste and stagnant water of heavy metals.

Last year, a pilot operation was established at the Haifa municipal wastewater treatment plant to test the purification capabilities of the water lily. Results showed a marked reduction of the amount of cadmium in the sludge following exposure to the water lilies. Other experiments with industrial sludge also showed promising results in removing heavy metals such as mercury, nickel and cobalt. Experimental work is still going on by the Hebrew University researchers to improve and optimise the purification techniques.

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