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Cilantro May Purify Drinking Water

Update Date: Sep 12, 2013 12:34 PM EDT

Sprinkling a little cilantro may be an inexpensive way to purify drinking water, according to a new study.

Researchers found that cilantro, which is also known as coriander and Thai parsley, can remove lead and other potentially toxic heavy metals from contaminated water.

"Cilantro may seem too pricey for use in decontaminating large amounts of water for drinking and cooking," researchers Douglas Schauer said in a news release.

"However, cilantro grows wild in vast amounts in countries that have problems with heavy-metal water pollution. It is readily available, inexpensive and shows promise in removing certain metals, such as lead, copper and mercury, that can be harmful to human health," Schauer added.

Current methods for removing heavy metals from water include activated carbon, which is used in filters in home water purification pitchers, or more advanced technology like ion-exchange resins.

However, conventional methods can be too expensive for use in developing countries. Researchers said the need for low-cost, sustainable alternatives has fostered research on biosorbents that remove potentially toxic materials from water. Biosorbents, which can range from microbes to plants, stick to heavy metals in ways that include both absorption and adsorption.

"Our goal is to find biosorbents that people in developing countries could obtain for nothing," Schauer explained. "When the filter in a water purification pitcher needs to be changed, they could go outside, gather a handful of cilantro or some other plant, and presto, there's a new filter ready to purify the water."

Researchers explain that cilantro's ability to purify water may lie in the structure of the plant's cells.  The outer walls of the microscopic cells that make up cilantro have an architecture ideal for sorption of heavy metals. Schauer and his team believe that other plants like parsley and culantro may also have similar properties and could potentially work as biosorbents.

The study was presented today at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

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