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Purging Carcinogens from used Cig Filters

  1. Feb 17, 2012 #1
    Hi all
    I am posting this question because i have NO prior experience in chemistry and thought this would be the best place to start for my question regarding carcinogens. I am a horticulture student at my university and have been looking into different substrate materials to implement in growing. Since filters on cigarettes are mostly fiberglass (as far as I know) with maybe some cotton I was wondering about two things:

    1) Are there any suggestions or known means as to how to purge these carcinogens from a filter?

    if so then...

    2) Would these means leave the fiberglass intact (as in would melt it, brak it down ect.)?

    Again I am posting this in the chemistry section due my complete lack of understanding about chemicals, and therefore means of removing them. I think it would be a useful way to recycle the used butts of cigs, and because of the success of other fiberglass inert mediums (Rockwool). If this is the wrong forum to post then Mods please delete or lock thread.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2012 #2
    The fiberglass in cigarette filters is something of an urban legend (Snopes addresses it tangentially here). Insofar as I know, cellulose acetate is used as a filter.

    Quite frankly, my initial impression is that since the carcinogenic cigarette residue is likely to consist of various organic compounds of varying nastiness, any means used to try and clean them off a filter probably is not going to be that environmentally friendly, and an open question as to whether it will modify/degrade the filter.
  4. Feb 18, 2012 #3
    I see well your right I had no idea that they used a plastic like acetate cellulose, I had alway heard it was fiber glass. Thanks for your input, I myself am a smoker (nasty habit) and I have always wondered if there could be any actual usefulness with the spent butts.
  5. Feb 21, 2012 #4


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    Solvent extraction would do it. The environment doesn't care if the compounds produce cancer in humans so whether it is "environmentally friendly" or not may not really be a concern. Smoke from fire is loaded with carcinogens but smoke doesn't do much harm to the environment after the air has been purged of the smoke particles.
  6. Feb 21, 2012 #5
    I think what he meant is that what how one would dispose of these carcinogens once they are extracted would be harmful, as in would you just "throw them away" or could that have an impact on the environment depending on how it is stored/cleansed. But your solvent solution might have some merit, although again I don't know the properties of acetate cellulose enough to know if it would remain intact after having said solvent run through it. Also since I wanted to do this under the idea of using it as a growing medium for plants:

    1) Would this solvent chemically contaminate the acetate cellulose?

    Plant roots are very effective at absorbing trace elements of substances and anything leftover could be harmful, or interrupt the plants ability to absorb the other nutrients it needs (N,P,K,Ca,Mg, ect.) in order to function.

    2) Even if it didn't contaminate it (and we were left with just the purged filters), would the structure of acetate cellulose inherently have trace elements in its structure that would be toxic to the plant, or again, interrupt its uptake of the other elements it needs for nutrients?
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2012
  7. Feb 21, 2012 #6
    I presumed that as a horticulture student, one would not be inclined to making something clean at the expense of making something else particularly nasty. :smile:

    My main thought was that while one could do a (set of) solvent extraction(s), it all depended on whether or not those solvents would modify/degrade/dissolve the cellulose acetate (CA). Via a quick Google search just now, I managed to find this page at a company which manufactures cellulose acetate. Certainly the default solvent for washing organic gunk off lab equipment in chemistry labs worldwide, acetone, seems to do a pretty good job at dissolving CA.

    I suppose if one could devise a protocol where one selects solvents that can strip off the numerous additives and smoking byproducts from the filters without doing anything to the filter itself, it would be fine. But then you've got x number of solvents (depending on how many you need) with who knows what kind of additives and combustion byproducts floating around inside, and that doesn't really seem like a "win" overall, to me.

    Honestly, my initial feeling was that this is something a bored organic chem grad student would do and then blog about it - "I dissolved a cigarette filter and ran a bunch of TLC plates under different conditions to see all the crap that's in said filter." I'd think about this some more, but I really need to finish my lunch and get back to work.....
  8. Feb 21, 2012 #7


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    Likely. There are solvents you could use that wouldn't affect cellulose acetate but I'm not sure about their suitability to extract the tar... suitability in terms of solving one problem and creating a much larger one.

    I guess it would depend on the plant and the growing conditions. Will the plug be in contact with the soil or will it be grown hydroponically?
  9. Feb 21, 2012 #8
    Since it was intended to simulate Rockwool it would most likely be hydroponically, and while it may differ from plant to plant (as far as root absorption capacity) its pretty much safe to say that if a chemical or trace element is in the growing medium the roots will most likely absorb it.
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