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Eating garbage: Bacteria for bioremediation
Date:6/25/2012

URBANA -- A 150-foot-high garbage dump in Colombia, South America, may have new life as a public park. Researchers at the University of Illinois have demonstrated that bacteria found in the dump can be used to neutralize the contaminants in the soil.

Jerry Sims, a U of I associate professor of crop sciences and USDA-Agricultural Research Service research leader and Andres Gomez, a graduate student from Medelln, Colombia, have been working on a landfill called "El Morro" in the Moravia Hill neighborhood of Medelln, which served as the city dump from 1972 to 1984. In that period, thousands of people came to the city from the rural areas to escape diverse social problems. There was no housing or employment for them, so they made a living picking up trash from this dump and built their homes upon it.

"There are some frightening pictures of this site on the Internet," said Sims. "At one point, close to 50,000 people lived there. They grew vegetables on the contaminated soil and hand-pumped drinking water out of the garbage hill."

In recent years, the Colombian government decided to relocate the people to different neighborhoods with better conditions. Then they decided to see if it was possible to clean up the area and turn it into a park. Unfortunately, the most reliable solution -- digging up the garbage and treating it -- is not economically feasible in Colombia.

Another problem was that there were no records of exactly what was in the dump.

"Apparently, hydrocarbon compounds were one of the main sources of contamination," said Gomez. "Phenyls, chlorinated biphenyls, and all kinds of compounds that are sometimes very difficult to clean up."

Three professors from The National University of Colombia in Medellin -- Hernan Martinez, Gloria Cadavid-Restrepo and Claudia Moreno -- considered a microbial ecology approach. They designed an experiment to determine whether bioremediation, which uses biological agents
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Contact: Susan Jongeneel
sjongene@illinois.edu
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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