Simple organic chemicals like vinegar could be used for environmental clean-up according to researchers at the University of Leeds.
The research team, led by Dr Doug Stewart and Dr Ian Burke, discovered that dousing the affected site with vinegar provided a food source for naturally-occurring bacteria. The bacteria work to clean the area by changing the chemistry of the chromium compounds rendering them harmless.
The textile factories, smelters, and tanneries of the past have polluted the groundwater in certain sites with harmful chromium compounds. Excessive exposure to these can lead to problems with the kidneys, liver, lungs and skin. Previous methods have treated chromate chemicals in situ with pH conditions but this new study from Leeds tackles the potentially more difficult problem of extremely alkaline conditions.
“From the results we have so far I am certain that we can develop a viable treatment for former industrial sites where chromate compounds are a problem,” says Dr Stewart. “Our next step is to further our understanding of the range of alkalinity over which our system can operate. As society becomes more environmentally-aware, new regulations demand that past mistakes are rectified and carbon footprints are reduced. By designing a clean-up method that promotes the growth of naturally occurring bacteria without introducing or engineering new bacteria, we are effectively hitting every environmental target possible.”
This new method is cheaper, safer and more environmentally-friendly than the alternative of removing the contaminated soil to a landfill.
By Leila Sattary