The EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Cleanup Technologies Series 10: Activated Carbon Treatment

Jul 10, 2017

Environmental Enlightenment #211

See our Newsletter, Environmental Enlightenment #200, for introduction to one highly valuable, plainly written series of Citizen’s Guides published by the EPA at

With this issue we introduce the EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Phytoremediation. You can reach it through the hyperlink under the blue header below.

Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is present in all known life forms.

Image courtesy NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al., and MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al.

Life on Earth is intimately fastened to carbon. It is the element of organic life.

Copyright: clairev / 123RF Stock Photo (

All organisms are built with compounds of carbon and use carbon in the production of the energy that makes them tick.

In the human body carbon is the second most abundant element by mass after oxygen.

Image courtesy Jrank Free Science Encyclopedia,

A porous substance is one for which empty pores make the bulk of its volume. In clay the empty pores can go to 70% of the volume.

Here’s a picture of porous volcanic rock:

(Copyright: 5505292 / 123RF Stock Photo

Activated carbon is a porous version of carbon that has uses in the purification of water, air and gas. 

The pores provide expansive areas in the holes and tunnels all over their surface.

Public Domain (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

We get carbon from coal, wood, nutshells or other carbon-rich materials.

Photo by Tijuana Brass at, licensed under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Carbonization is the process of taking a carbon-rich piece of material and converting it to pure carbon through heating.

Carbon-rich material is cooked at extreme temperatures topping 2000 degrees Celsius. What remains is usually 20 to 30 percent of the beginning weight and consists of mostly carbon and some inorganic ash. In the next step, oxygen is bonded to the surface of the carbon, which now makes it “active.”


Go to the EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Activated Carbon Treatment for the rest. It is simple and fun to read.

Copyright: so47 / 123RF Stock Photo (


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

One Useful Environmental Database

One Useful Environmental Database

Environmental Enlightenment #219—Here’s a data-packed site that provides handy information on environmental data at sites of interest.