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09.15.2007

Wine and Mining Do Mix After All

That a glass of wine poured over a bunch of crushed rocks and soil could leach out some heavy metals should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers a little bit of high school chemistry. Wine is acidic, of course, and acids have a way of grabbing on to lots of materials and dissolving them.

The fact that wine may be better at doing this than some industrial solvents might generate some surprise, however. It certainly surprised a bunch of Australian researchers who recently spent a little of their extracurricular time testing out how well wine and soda might assist mining companies in the detection of valuable metals.

Here's how it works:

Step 1: Crush rocks
Step 2: Pour on a nice unwooded Chardonnay
Step 3: Mix
Step 4: Pour liquid into detection device
Step 5: Scan for metals
Step 6: Do not drink

The acids in the wine dissolve metals like nickel, silver, zinc, and copper, which the detection device (some sort of spectrometer?) can observe. If the metals are in high enough concentration in the final solution, then the mining companies have something to go hunting for.

The implications for the excess of cheap wine that remains unsold at times in Australia (sometimes referred to as the Australian Wine Lake) are clear. There may be a whole new market for un-drunk Shiraz.

Me? I'm thinking about something else: those silver fillings I've got in my mouth that are being bathed pretty regularly in a bath of wine. Is there such a thing as silver poisoning? If there is, then I'm on my way. I hope it's not too painful a way to go.

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