Posted by: Francis Koster Published: December 7, 2009

Iron can now be Used to Clean Polluted Soil and Water

Iron can now be Used to Clean Polluted Soil and Water

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D. 

A new method of detoxifying polluted industrial waste water has been successfully used in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Ohio and Florida. It has removed toxic materials, heavy metals, fertilizers and pesticides in 1/5 the time that other, more expensive processes take. Rather than the typical solution relying solely on microorganisms to treat waste produced by chemical, material and pharmaceutical companies, [1] researchers have developed an alternative solution: iron.

In conjunction with Lehigh University and Tongji University in Shanghai, Dr. Wei-xian Zhang has done breakthrough research on industrial waste water filtration. Dr. Zhang, a civil and environmental engineer, concluded his research on the use of iron to detoxify pollutants in industrial waste water. [2]  With Dr. Zhang’s research, “using nanoparticle technology, a $20-million clean-up project could cost $5 million or less.” [3]  Rather than pumping the contaminated water out and treating it, this new method injects the 100 to 200 nm iron-based nanoparticle directly into the groundwater. When this comes into contact with water or soil contaminated with carcinogenic solvents the particles convert these hazardous chemicals into harmless hydrocarbons and chlorides often found in table salts. [4]  This method is successful with cleaning up toxic materials, heavy metals, fertilizers and pesticides in about a tenth of the time a traditional clean up would take. [5]  Paul Osimo, vice president of Lehigh Nanotech, says Zhang’s nanoparticles can clean up a hazardous waste site in under a year when traditional methods would take 10 to 20 years to remediate. [6]  The project has successfully been used in the Taopu Industrial District of Shanghai as well as the United States in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Ohio and Florida.

To get an idea of the scale for which this research is needed, consider this: there are more than 1500 sites on the United States superfund list [7], [8] and yet less than a third have been cleaned in the past ten years. [9]  At least 288 sites pose a potential to harm people due to human exposure or contaminated groundwater migration, and the Center for Public Integrity found that 20 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of these uncontrolled Superfund sites.

A traditional clean-up would have the contaminated water pumped out, treated, then returned at normal groundwater levels. What’s worse is the process takes anywhere from 50 to 100 years to complete. [10] The cost for such a clean-up depends on many factors for example the type of contaminate or the level of contamination. The recent situation in Buick City Michigan could cast up to $3.7 million to clean up just a portion of the contaminated soil and groundwater [11] and totaling up to $19.5 million [12] for the total site clean-up.  

For more information regarding the research and results by Dr. Zhang please refer to the National Science Foundation’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs and Dr. Zhang’s publication of his research found in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research.




[1] From an article by Eideard Green future for scrap iron in reducing pollution November 7, 2008 at 2:00 pm

[2] From an article found on InTech called Scrap iron goes green published November 6, 2008

[3], [4] An article published by Rossin College of Engineering & Applied Science

[5], [6] Published by Lehigh University P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science Resolve an Online Magazine, A huge” breakthrough” Volume 2, 2008  (citing Better World Report)

 [7] A Superfund site is “a toxic waste site that falls under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program. After public awareness grew about heavily polluted areas like Love Canal, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (also known as Superfund law) in 1980.”

[8] EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency), 2003. Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).

[9] The article Nanoscale iron particles for environmental remediation: An overview by Wei-xian Zhang was published in Journal of Nanoparticle Research 5: 323–332, 2003. Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

[10]  August 24, 1998

[11] Article by Melissa Burden published in Flint Journal, Michigan September 23, 2009, 12:21PM

[12] Article by Melissa Burden Buick City cleanup cost: $19.5M published in Flint Journal, Michigan Thursday, September 24 2009$19.5M%20AND%20date(all)&p_field_advanced-0=&p_text_advanced-0=(Buick%20City%20cleanup%20cost:%20$19.5M)&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no

Image: federico stevanin /

Copyright © 2020 The Optimistic Futurist. All Rights Reserved.

Francis P. Koster Ed.D.

Proven local solutions to national problems.


Francis P. Koster, Ed. D.

1012 Westlake Drive

Kannapolis, NC 28081

Copyright © 2023 America's Optimistic Futurist

Scroll to Top