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The Miracle Mineral

The Muskrat Watershed Council initiated a pilot project this spring in the Muskrat Watershed that will test the mineral Zeolite and its ability to absorb phosphorous from freshwater.

Although the word Zeolite may sound alien, it is actually a naturally occurring mineral with many common uses. It is formed from volcanic activities where hot volcanic ash mixes with mineral rich lake or marine water. The molecular structure is what makes Zeolite such an interesting and useful mineral. The mineral’s structure contains relatively open, three-dimensional crystals built from aluminum, oxygen, silicon and earth metals (such as sodium, potassium and magnesium) trapped between the gaps of the crystals is water molecules. Due to this porous structure, Zeolite acts like a “molecular sieve”, capable of absorbing large amounts of water and other substances and, depending on the varying size of pores, permits certain substances to pass through while trapping others. In addition to acting as a sieve, Zeolite’s structure causes the mineral to have a negative molecular charge, which acts like a magnet to positively charged elements in an environment. The process is known in the scientific world as a cation exchange.

The first use of Zeolite can be tracked to the Roman Empire where it was used in the

aqueducts as a natural water filter. In 1756, Swedish mineralogist, Alex Fredrick Cronstedt, coined the name “Zeolite” after the Greek words, zeo “to boil” and lithos “a stone”. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that Zeolite entered into the North American commercial market as a use for wastewater plants to remove ammonia. From 1970 onward, Zeolite became useful for a range of applications, from radioactivity removal, pool filters, and livestock feed additives to kitty litter and road salt.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River uses Zeolite to remove Tritium from groundwater. When it comes to the issues of eutrophication in the Muskrat Watershed, studies have shown that Zeolite has the ability to reduce levels of phosphorous and nitrogen from different sources of water and sediments. The Muskrat Watershed Council received Zeolite from the Canadian corporation Imagine Zeolite to conduct a controlled experiment to determine Zeolite’s level of effectiveness at removing phosphorus from several select tertiary streams within the watershed.

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