Melbourne: Researchers claim to have shown for the first time that naturally occurring bacteria can help purify toxic water.
A team at the University of New South Wales has shownit can safely destroy industrial toxins in groundwater arising from PVC plastic production by injecting naturally occurring bacteria into a contaminated aquifer in Sydney.
The trial has confirmed the bacteria`s natural ability to degrade and clean up chlorinated solvents that leaked many years ago from a former chemical plant into the Botany Sands Aquifer, creating large plumes of contaminated groundwater.
"With present technology, it was expected that it might take decades or perhaps centuries before these toxic solvents are removed from the aquifer," Prof Mike Manefield, who led the team, said.
He added: "The energy demands and hence the financial burden of operating the contaminant containment system over this period of time is significant, but with our cultures in the ground we have the potential to greatly reduce the cleanup
time and the cost and environmental footprint of containment.
"Our tests showed that these bacteria effectivel breathe these pollutants the way we breathe oxygen. It`s a big step forward. These cultures represent a greener and cheaper tool we can use to clean up some of our contaminated sites.
They have not previously been available in Australia."
The researchers collected bacteria occurring naturally in the Botany aquifer and isolated three bacterial communities that live off the breakdown of pollutants, including the first one known to degrade chloroform -- a possible carcinogen that
has been banned for many years in consumer products.
It`s found that bacteria had not degraded more of the pollutants on their own as they couldn`t build up and sustain large populations in the aquifer due to a lack of food.
Further studies in which large volumes of the bacteria were grown in beer kegs showed that they thrived on a variety of diets, including ethanol, glucose and emulsified vegetable oils, say the researchers.