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Bacterial avengers

Columbus taxpayers will spend billions of dollars to stop millions of gallons of sewage from spilling into the Scioto River and other waterways during heavy rains.

As the city builds new treatment tanks and interceptor pipes, it could save a lot of money by investing in sand, according to an Ohio State University researcher.

A recent research project that was funded by the city suggests that a system using sand — and the bacteria that live in it — could effectively treat sewage before it reaches the water.

“It looks like a very, very promising technology,” said Karen Mancl, the project’s lead researcher and an expert on sewage and water quality at Ohio State.

Mancl has spent more than three years studying the effectiveness of bioreactors, a type of sewage-treatment system that dates to the 1800s.

The concept is simple: Sewage flows into the sand where bacteria digest ammonia, phosphorus and other pollutants that can sicken people, kill wildlife and help grow thick mats of toxic blue-green algae. The water that flows from the bioreactor contains only trace amounts of pollutants.

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