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Microbes set on a mission to fight groundwater pollution

In most people's minds, microbes and drinking water don't go well together. Think cholera, or typhoid — serious diseases caused by waterborne bacteria. But research at Idaho National Laboratory is showcasing the potential of microbes to cleanse our water rather than foul it.

For the past decade, INL environmental microbiologist Hope Lee has been assessing and tapping this potential. She's pioneering the use of molecular techniques that both identify bacteria present in polluted groundwater and reveal if they're actively breaking the pollutants down. She's finding that naturally occurring microbes can be key cleanup allies, helping degrade contaminants cheaply and effectively.

"I'm just trying to take advantage of what's already down there," Lee says. "I want to make the bacteria work for us."

Forty percent of Americans depend entirely or primarily on groundwater to meet basic needs such as drinking and washing. While most U.S. aquifers are clean and safe, chemical contamination poses a threat in many areas. Lee says scientists have documented about 3,000 large underground contaminant "plumes" nationwide, including one at INL's own Test Area North (TAN). These pools of chemicals — which can include pesticides, gasoline and diesel fuel, heavy metals and industrial solvents — go with groundwater's flow. They can, and sometimes do, end up in people's wells and pipes.
 
 

Comments (1)

  1. Indeed, this is a good and unique discovery.It has the potential of solving problems associated with water-borne diseases.It may also be useful in bioremediation of polluted water.

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