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Screening wastewater biosolids for environmental contaminants
Date:2/14/2014

mportant benefit of fertilizing soil is replenishing nitrate levels, which are crucial to growing plants. One indicator of the soil's health is the rate at which native bacteria are breaking down those nitrates through a process called denitrification. If antimicrobials or other chemical agents are affecting the bacteria's ability to complete this process, the soil's quality is degraded.

The new screening technique involves growing a bacterium commonly found in soil that is important to the nitrogen cycle -- Paracoccus denitrificans -- in pure laboratory cultures. Researchers then add various amounts of the chemicals in question to determine the minimum amount that affects the denitrification process.

"We chose the nitrogen cycle as an indicator because we wanted to represent an environmental process that is critical to agriculture," Holzem said. "Typically you have to use a complex, $50,000 piece of equipment to measure the gasses that are produced by the active bacteria. But our method isolates denitrification on its own so that we can use simple processes to measure it."

To test the new screening technique, Holzem and Gunsch worked with Heather Stapleton, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, to examine six commercial antimicrobial chemicals. Two are used in abundance: triclosan, which is found in most antibacterial soaps and toothpastes, and triclocarban, which isn't far behind in both uses and criticisms. They also looked at four emerging antimicrobial compounds used in applications such as pesticides, paper mills, deodorants and antimicrobial household goods.

"These chemicals are everywhere," said Gunsch. "Our society loves products that prevent microbial growth."

The Duke team found that environmental levels of triclosan should raise an immediate red flag, given its effects on the critical Paracoccus bacteria, and that three of the other five compounds tested are found in concentrations hig
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Contact: Ken Kingery
ken.kingery@duke.edu
919-660-8414
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert  

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