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Argonne feeds bacteria into contaminated Kansas site to clean it

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Last year, a team of Argonne scientists led by Lorraine LaFreniere injected iron microparticles underneath fields long-polluted with carbon tetrachloride near Centralia, Kansas. The researchers coated the microparticles with organic material, which served as bait for bacteria that created the conditions necessary to safely convert the toxic chemical into non-hazardous substances.

Back in the 1960s, carbon tetrachloride — or “carbon tet,” as it is more commonly known — was widely thought to be a miracle chemical. It worked as a powerful cleaning agent and as a refrigerant, and in the Midwest it was used as a pesticide to protect stored grain. However, scientific studies showed that exposure to carbon tet resulted in liver, kidney, and central nervous system degeneration as well as increased rates of cancer.

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