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Nature's helpers: Using microorganisms to remove TCE from water
Date:2/28/2008

In 2002, Bruce Rittmann, PhD, director of the Biodesign Institutes Center for Environmental Biotechnology, received a patent for an innovative way to use nature to lend society a hand. He invented a treatment system, called the membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR), which uses naturally occurring microorganisms to remove contaminants from water.

Now Rittmann and his research team, which includes Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown and Jinwook Chung, recently published a paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology for a new application that removes a problematic contaminant that has made local headlines.

The chlorinated solvent trichloroethene (TCE) has been found to be an increasingly problematic contaminant in groundwater. The detection of TCE recently forced the shut down of the water supply for the Greater Phoenix area municipalities of Paradise Valley and Scottsdale.

TCE has been widely used as a cleaning agent and solvent for many military, commercial, and industrial applications. Its widespread use, along with its improper handling, storage, and disposal, has resulted in frequent detection of TCE in the groundwater. TCE has the potential to cause liver damage, malfunctions in the central nervous system and it is considered a likely human carcinogen.

As with other elements, the chlorine cycle is becoming a key concern to many environmental pollution scientists, said Krajmalnik-Brown, a researcher in the Biodesign Institutes Center for Environmental Biotechnology and assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineerings Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Transforming the chlorinated solvent to a harmless product is the best way to eliminate the harmful effects of TCE. In the case of TCE, Mother Nature is the best helper. Scientists have discovered specialized microorganisms that can replace the chlorine in the chlorinated molecules with hydrogen, a process called reductive dechlorination
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Contact: Joe Caspermeyer
joseph.caspermeyer@asu.edu
480-727-0369
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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Nature's helpers: Using microorganisms to remove TCE from water
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