Using Microbial Communities to Assess Environmental Contamination

Read the full story from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

First there were canaries in coal mines, now there are microbes at nuclear waste sites, oil spills and other contaminated environments. A multi-institutional team of more than 30 scientists has found that statistical analysis of DNA from natural microbial communities can be used to accurately identify environmental contaminants and serve as quantitative geochemical biosensors. This study was sponsored by ENIGMA, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science “Scientific Focus Area Program” based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)…

Hazen, who holds joint appointments with DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is the corresponding author of a paper detailing the results of this ENIGMA study in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The paper is titled “Natural Bacterial Communities Serve as Quantitative Geochemical Biosensors.” For a complete list of authors go here.

Detroit River cleanup brightens gateway to Michigan

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

Cleaning up Detroit and its river could be a key in revitalizing and re-creating Michigan as a state, state officials say.

People describe Detroit as the front-door city of the state, said Ron Olson, the chief of parks and recreation for the state Department of Natural Resources. “The better Detroit does, the better the state does.”

The industrial complexes that were built up along the Detroit River and other rivers throughout the state years ago were an abusive use of land, Olson said. Now, the challenge is to dismantle these complexes and restore the waterfronts to the way they once were.

Biochar in Co-Contaminated Soil Manipulates Arsenic Solubility and Microbiological Community Structure, and Promotes Organochlorine Degradation

Samuel J. Gregory, Christopher W. N. Anderson , Marta Camps-Arbestain, Patrick J. Biggs, Austen R. D. Ganley, Justin M. O’Sullivan, Michael T. McManus (2015). “Biochar in Co-Contaminated Soil Manipulates Arsenic Solubility and Microbiological Community Structure, and Promotes Organochlorine Degradation.” PLOSOne, April 29, 2015.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125393

Abstract: We examined the effect of biochar on the water-soluble arsenic (As) concentration and the extent of organochlorine degradation in a co-contaminated historic sheep-dip soil during a 180-d glasshouse incubation experiment. Soil microbial activity, bacterial community and structure diversity were also investigated. Biochar made from willow feedstock (Salix sp) was pyrolysed at 350 or 550°C and added to soil at rates of 10 g kg-1 and 20 g kg-1 (representing 30 t ha-1 and 60 t ha-1). The isomers of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) alpha-HCH and gamma-HCH (lindane), underwent 10-fold and 4-fold reductions in concentration as a function of biochar treatment. Biochar also resulted in a significant reduction in soil DDT levels (P < 0.01), and increased the DDE:DDT ratio. Soil microbial activity was significantly increased (P < 0.01) under all biochar treatments after 60 days of treatment compared to the control. 16S amplicon sequencing revealed that biochar-amended soil contained more members of the Chryseobacterium, Flavobacterium, Dyadobacter and Pseudomonadaceae which are known bioremediators of hydrocarbons. We hypothesise that a recorded short-term reduction in the soluble As concentration due to biochar amendment allowed native soil microbial communities to overcome As-related stress. We propose that increased microbiological activity (dehydrogenase activity) due to biochar amendment was responsible for enhanced degradation of organochlorines in the soil. Biochar therefore partially overcame the co-contaminant effect of As, allowing for enhanced natural attenuation of organochlorines in soil.

Switchgrass and Bacteria Work Together to Remove PCBs from Soil

Read the full story from the University of Iowa.

Researchers at the University of Iowa Superfund Research Program (Iowa SRP) Center have found that switchgrass, a plant native to central North America, can effectively remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from contaminated soil. When PCB-degrading bacteria is added, removal of PCBs from the soil can increase further. This phytoremediation method may be an efficient and sustainable strategy to removing PCBs from hazardous waste sites.

2015 National Brownfields Training Conference

Chicago, IL, September 24, 2015.

Brownfields 2015 promises something for all levels of stakeholders and practitioners. The conference program includes speakers, discussions, mobile workshops, films, and other learning formats that are calibrated to provide you with case study examples, program updates, and useful strategies for meeting your brownfield challenges head on.

For more information and to register, see http://www.brownfieldsconference.org/en/registerinfo.

5 Years After BP Oil Spill, Effects Linger And Recovery Is Slow

Read the full story from NPR.

Five years ago, BP’s out-of-control oil well deep in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. Eleven workers were killed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. But it was more than a deadly accident — the blast unleashed the nation’s worst offshore environmental catastrophe.

In the spring and summer of 2010, oil gushed from the Macondo well for nearly three months. More than three million barrels of Louisiana light crude fouled beaches and wetlands from Texas to Florida, affecting wildlife and livelihoods.

Today, the spill’s impacts linger.

​Scientists develop mesh that captures oil — but lets water through

Read the full story from Ohio State University.

The unassuming piece of stainless steel mesh in a lab at The Ohio State University doesn’t look like a very big deal, but it could make a big difference for future environmental cleanups.

Water passes through the mesh but oil doesn’t, thanks to a nearly invisible oil-repelling coating on its surface…

The mesh coating is among a suite of nature-inspired nanotechnologies under development at Ohio State and described in two papers (here and here) in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Potential applications range from cleaning oil spills to tracking oil deposits underground.