Scientists have devised a better way to protect groundwater from acids, heavy metals and toxic chemicals, helping to secure the Earth’s main freshwater supply, according to information released by the National Centre for Groundwater Research & Training in Australia.

The advance is a major step towards shielding groundwater from mining, industrial and domestic waste, all of which can contaminate water for decades, rendering it unusable and undrinkable.

A team led by Professor Derek Eamus at The National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has developed a cheaper and more efficient way to test the optimal design of ‘store-release covers’ – layers of soil and plants that prevent water from leaking into the waste and contaminating the aquifers underneath.

“Globally, mining produces millions of tons of waste known as tailings that are often stored above ground,” said Prof. Eamus. “Industrial and domestic waste are buried as landfill, with Australia alone burying over 21 million tons in 2010.”

This waste poses a big threat to groundwater, which makes up 97 percent of the world’s fresh water and is thus a major element in global water security, Prof. Eamus explained.

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