Hemp seed will be used to help tackle the Williamtown contamination crisis, a University of Newcastle researcher says.
Dr Brett Turner said the university found that hemp seed powder “contains proteins that appear to be very effective at removing firefighting contaminants from water”.
Dr Turner made the discovery after reading news stories about residents having their blood tested for the PFOS and PFOA contaminants, which leached from the Williamtown RAAF Base.
“We researched a lot of different plants and found hemp seed was a potentially viable option to remove the contaminants because it has high protein content,” he said.
Dr Turner bought a kilogram of industrial hemp seed online to conduct the research.
This was shortly after the federal government legalised the sale of hemp seed, which was low in THC – the psychoactive substance found in marijuana.
Dr Turner is a researcher at the university’s Centre of Excellence for Geotechnical Science and Engineering.
The centre has received a $600,000 NSW government grant to further investigate the ability to treat large volumes of contaminated water. The university has provided an extra $220,000 for the research.
The funding covers an option of using a trial pump and treat system to remove the contamination from groundwater at the RAAF base.
This would involve sucking out the groundwater and running it through a filter.
Another option is using a “permeable reactive barrier”, which would involve digging a trench in the ground, perpendicular to the flow of contaminated groundwater.
“When the water flows through the barrier, it would come out clean,” Dr Turner said.
NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer Mary O’Kane said the research could have far-reaching benefits.
“There is currently no simple remediation method that can target the family of chemicals at the centre of the firefighting foam contamination that has affected Williamtown and other communities around Australia and overseas,” Professor O’Kane said.
“The funding will help researchers take their work forward and, hopefully, find a more effective way of removing these chemical compounds from groundwater and surface water on the RAAF base at Williamtown.”
She said the potential environmental benefits of the research were significant, as was the prospect of using the research for worldwide commercial purposes.
The centre’s director Professor Scott Sloan said it was a “tremendous example of local researchers working to find a solution to a local problem, but the application could be much broader indeed”.
Dr Turner said the research was in its early stages, but added “I’m highly confident it will work”.
“I’m a believer in attacking the source first – the contamination on the base,” he said.
If trials are successful, the technology could be used to remediate contaminated soil in drains and on people’s properties.
“Funding is still being sought for this avenue of research,” he said.