This is how drinking a nice cold beer can help remove lead from drinking water

ATLANTA — In the future, enjoying a cold beer could help protect your family’s health.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi talked to Georgia Tech researchers who are using beer yeast to remove lead from water.

Choi went to Scofflaw Brewing to see how the beer-making process starts.

Brewmaster Joe McIntyre showed her a plastic pail full of bubbling yellow froth that is beer yeast.

“We use that yeast coming out of the tank,” he said.

McIntyre said yeast is the key to a beer’s flavor.

“It’s probably the most important thing that we, that we put into the beer. We don’t get fermentation without it. We don’t have alcohol without that,” McIntyre said.

But after the yeast’s lifespan is up…

“We get rid of it. Most often it goes to a farmer for feed. They mix it in with different food,” McIntyre said.

But Patricia Stathatou and Christos Athanasiou, research scientists at Georgia Tech, came up with the idea of using yeast to remove lead from drinking water after hearing about thousands of children being exposed to high lead levels in Flint, Michigan.

“We wanted something that would be cheap, easy to make, easy to reproduce, and could effectively remove and rapidly remove these toxic trace amounts from drinking water,” Stathatou told Choi.


Pediatrician Dr. Samira Brown said lead is especially harmful to children.

“So, one of the things that we have learned about lead is that even chronic low exposures can be very impactful, specifically to their IQ. Their neurologic system is very sensitive,” Brown said.

Georgia Tech teamed up with researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed a hydrogel capsule to hold the yeast after it is cleaned, freeze-dried, and ground into a powder.

“The yeast are so small. Like, they are more than 10 times smaller than my hair,” Stathatou said.

The capsules are like a house for the yeast that allows the water to come in and interact with it.

“They bind the lead and then the water can escape alone, free, while the yeast are retained in the hydrogel house,” Stathatou said.

The capsules would be in a filter attached to your sink or at a water treatment plant that can be replaced.

Researchers said the yeast capsules could be modified to remove other dangerous contaminants from water, including PFAS and microplastics.

Other potential uses include space mining.

“Like rare earth elements, minerals, things that are very expensive here on Earth,” Athanasiou said.

The capsules could even someday help make it possible for people to live on Mars.

“We need to make sure that we can like live there. And we can use the water that is there, if there’s some water, and the resources in general,” Athanasiou said.

Back at Scofflaw Brewing, beer enthusiasts liked the idea of their favorite drink also having a higher purpose.

“It’s really cool because, I mean, that’s the thing is, like, a lot of our pipes, they’re aging pipes, need that sort of love and attention and the face that you can repurpose something,” beer drinker Joey Jarrel said.

“They can turn a casual pastime for me into something that’s helpful to other people,” said a beer drinker named Tyler.

Georgia Tech researchers are in talks with a major beer company to supply them with yeast. They said they are still years away from home use.

They are currently figuring out how to make it work on a mass scale.


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