Nullifying nitrophenols

A chemical catalyst developed at Carnegie Mellon University completely destroys dangerous nitrophenols in laboratory tests, according to Arani Chanda, who recently presented his findings at the American Chemical Society.

A chemical catalyst developed at CarnegieMellonUniversity completely destroys dangerous nitrophenols in laboratory tests, according to Arani Chanda, a doctoral student who recently presented his findings at the 230th meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Washington, DC.

“We found an efficient, rapid and environmentally friendly means of completely destroying these compounds,” said Chanda, who works in the laboratory of Terrence Collins, the Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry and director of the Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry at the Mellon College of Science (MCS) at Carnegie Mellon.

Nitrophenols are man-made pollutants that mostly originate from wastewater discharges from the dye, pesticide and ammunition industries as well as from various chemical-manufacturing plants. They are also found in diesel exhaust particles. Thousands of tons of these agents are produced yearly by countries around the world.

Registered as priority pollutants by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they are toxic to aquatic life. They produce immediate toxic effects to the nervous system, and some reports have implicated them as possible endocrine disruptors. Many of these compounds cannot be destroyed by existing means.

The catalyst, one of a family of catalysts called Fe-TAMLs (tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand), works with hydrogen peroxide. Its “green” design is based on elements used naturally in biochemistry. Fe-TAMLs were discovered by Collins, whose group has developed an extensive suite of these catalysts to provide clean, safe alternatives to existing industrial practices, as well as ways to remediate other pressing problems that currently lack solutions.

“Fe-TAMLs are much easier to use in destroying nitrophenols because they work at ambient temperatures and neutral pH,” said Collins. “Existing detoxification methods are inefficient and work only under acidic conductions. Our method can be used over a much broader pH range, including wastewater pH conditions.”

Fe-TAMLs have shown promise in killing a simulant of anthrax, reducing fuel pollutants, treating pulp and paper processing by-products, and detoxifying pesticides. A major goal is to develop Fe-TAMLs as a safe, cost-effective means of global water decontamination.