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viernes, 25 de junio de 2010

E-Waste Could Help Prevent Bacterial Infections

Currently, more than two billion LCD screens are nearing the end of their lives. Chances are that you have a few yourself, but if you're like most Americans, you probably won't recycle them.

Electronic waste is a serious problem. Toxic chemicals, including lead, cadmium and mercury, pose an environmental hazard to soil, should they leach into it. And hazardous materials, such as arsenic and acid, are used by people in developing countries to extract valuable metals from circuit boards and wires, which they sell for income. It's a good thing researchers are finding new ways to use old LCD screens.

In many research labs, scientists are trying to find uses for e-waste, such as turning the materials into Olympic medals and using old components to turn algae into a biofuel.

And now researchers at the University of York's Department of Chemistry have found a way to turn electronic waste from LCD screens into an anti-microbial substance that destroys infections such as Escherichia coli , some strains of Staphylococcus aureus and other unpronounceable, yet dangerous, types of bacteria.

Polyvinyl-alcohol (PVA) is a key element of LCD televisions. It's also a chemical compound that is compatible with the human body.

Andrew Hunt and his colleagues had to cool and then heat PVA, dehydrate it with ethanol, and add a dash of silver nanoparticles to enhance the material's anti-microbial properties. The final product could be used in hospital cleaning solutions to help to reduce infections. According to the York University press release, the product "could also be used in pills and dressings that are designed to deliver drugs to particular parts of the body."

Hunt and his team confess that more work needs to be done. Regulatory agencies still must guarantee that silver nanoparticles are suitable for human health applications.

But since LCD screens are the fastest growing source of electronic waste in the European Union, it's good to know that people are working on ways to diminish the potential hazards.

We will have more reporting on electronic waste when we launch a new Wide Angle on June 28. Get excited!

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