It is estimated that a quarter of the houses in Europe have at least one lead (Pb) pipe. This is a public health concern of note, because if corrosion occurs, the toxic metal could come into contact with drinking water. One potential solution would be to use bacteria that produce molecules that can facilitate the attachment of metal particles to calcite. Unfortunately, scientists lack a comprehensive understanding of how exactly this sorption process works. The EU-funded 'The role of microbial metabolites in Pb-calcite surface interactions' (MIME) project shed some light on the matter, drawing on expertise in the fields of water treatment, geoscience, surface physics and biology. Researchers used advanced analytical techniques to study the biogeochemistry behind the behaviour of Pb on a molecular scale, one variable at a time. This allowed them to map the processes through which organic materials mediate the attachment of Pb sulphide nanoparticles to mineral surfaces. The insights gained can be used to inform criteria for the selection of bacteria that produce the right molecules for the sorption of toxic metals onto mineral surfaces. This information is thus particularly useful for improving the treatment of drinking water.
Lead contamination, toxic metals, drinking water, bacterial metabolites, mineral surfaces, water treatment, biogeochemistry, nanoparticles