Biotechnology and Fundamental Research

Cleaning up with mother nature

Soils contaminated with various heavy metals and other chemicals are common on past and present industrial sites. Physical removal of the soils followed by treatments like soil washing, chemical treatment, electrokinetics, and incineration are not cost effective alternative methods for soil cleanup. Phytoremediation is a promising cleanup method which uses plants for soil and water decontamination. Results from phytoremediation studies appear to be comparable to traditional cleanup methods such as land farming, but phytoremediation additionally offers protection against erosion, maintains proper soil conditions, and is less laborious than land farming. Many different plants and trees can remove or degrade toxic pollutants from soil and ground water. The species and plant type best used depends on the type of contaminant, the concentration of pollutants, and the strata that is contaminated. Researchers in the biotechnology and fundamental research group are determining which plants are most effective at removing varying contaminants in different substrates. They are comparing several tree and grass species native to the southeastern United States to determine which are most effective at cleaning PCP-contaminated soils. The researchers are also comparing the ability of various wetland plants to reduce contaminants in waste water, and the removal of heavy metals from drinking water by several aquatic plant species is also being studied. The preliminary results are very promising; with some plants yielding significant reduction in contaminant levels.