Modified minerals can kill bacteria in contaminated water, UNBC research indicates

They're known as a "magic mineral" because of their many applications and a University of Northern British Columbia graduate student may have found a new one.

Lon Kerr's work involves modifying natural zeolites to make anti-bacterial agents.

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He's taken a sample from the International Zeolite's Bromley Creek Quarry in British Columbia, washed it with deionized water, then treated with sodium chloride solution to remove water-soluble impurities and make a sodium-form zeolite. It was then soaked in zinc solution to load the zeolite.

Tests confirmed that zinc-modified zeolite is capable of killing 100% of bacteria. Just 0.1 grams of product can reduce the cell count of bacteria-contaminated water by over 2,000 per hundred milliliters, in under an hour of exposure.

"We've been testing killing bacteria in drinking water since last summer, we are confident about the results we are getting," said Dr. Hossein Kazemian, Kerr's supervisor.

Continued efforts are underway to upscale the process.

"According to World Health Organization reports, by 2025, 50 per cent of the world's population will be living in water-stressed regions and at least two billion people will be drinking water from sources contaminated with bacteria generated by feces," said Kerr.

"These numbers show the importance of our research in developing inexpensive, yet a very effective compound for water purification particularly for underdeveloped countries.

"In some cases, floods, earthquakes and other events can damage or destroy existing water treatment systems in developed communities.

"Zeolites are a solution for disaster that can be prepared in advanced and stored long term."

Kerr is in the second year of working towards a Master of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. His research began while he was an undergraduate student at UNBC.

Kerr is conducting his research with International Zeolite Corporation (formerly known as Canadian Zeolite Corporation) with funding from Mitacs, which is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia.

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