Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Water, water, everywhere ... but is it safe to drink?

Date:
February 20, 2011
Source:
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
Summary:
New research examines society's efforts to reverse and stop groundwater pollution, and the effectiveness of bioremediation technologies -- using microbes to clean up organic contaminants such as petroleum hydrocarbons (oil, gasoline or diesel) or chemicals used in the electronics or transportation industries.

"Over the last couple of generations, there has been a huge amount of groundwater pollution worldwide, and this has had a negative impact on our drinking water supply," says Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Canada Research Chair in Isotope Geochemistry of the Earth and the Environment at the University of Toronto.

Related Articles


Sherwood Lollar took part in the THINK CANADA Press Breakfast Sunday at AAAS. Her research examines society's efforts to reverse and stop groundwater pollution, and the effectiveness of bioremediation technologies -- using microbes to clean up organic contaminants such as petroleum hydrocarbons (oil, gasoline or diesel) or chemicals used in the electronics or transportation industries.

While the disposal of these organic contaminants tends to be well regulated today, this has not always been the case. Lax regulations and enforcement during the period immediately after the Second World War has left Europe and North America with a legacy of past contamination.

"This contamination has had a pervasive impact on the environment," says Sherwood Lollar. "It is still out there, and it needs to be dealt with."

Over the past decade, many techniques used to clean up groundwater contamination have harnessed the power of microbiology and the work of geochemists like Sherwood Lollar. "We are not genetically engineering microbes," she explains. "In many settings, naturally occurring microbes feed off the organic contaminants and, in the process, convert them to non-toxic end products."

Until now, the real difficulty has been in proving that the process exists and that the microbes are actually cleaning up the contaminants. Sherwood Lollar has developed techniques that show where the clean-up is happening and, just as importantly, where it is not.

"Elements like carbon have different stable isotopes: Carbon-12 and Carbon-13. One is slightly heavier than the other, and the microbes tend to feed mostly on the lighter one. When the microbes have been working for some time, the ratio of heavy-to-light carbon will change. It is this change -- referred to as an isotopic signature -- that lets us know the water is being cleaned up," says Sherwood Lollar.

By cleaning up contaminated groundwater, it is possible to recuperate what would otherwise be a lost resource. The technique is starting to be used by regulators, and Sherwood Lollar is working with an international group of scientists to put together a guidance document for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This will provide a set of recommendations about use in the field for practitioners, which will be a first step towards mainstreaming the technique.

"It's a common misconception that water -- and especially our supply of groundwater -- is a renewable resource," says Sherwood Lollar. "But it isn't. So, it is particularly important that we manage it well and that we do whatever we can to conserve, protect and remediate what we have."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. "Water, water, everywhere ... but is it safe to drink?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110220080553.htm>.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. (2011, February 20). Water, water, everywhere ... but is it safe to drink?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110220080553.htm
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. "Water, water, everywhere ... but is it safe to drink?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110220080553.htm (accessed March 4, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Tourists Visit Rare Grey Whales in Mexico

Raw: Tourists Visit Rare Grey Whales in Mexico

AP (Mar. 4, 2015) Once nearly extinct, grey whales now migrate in their thousands to Mexico&apos;s Vizcaino reserve in Baja California, in search of warmer waters to mate and give birth. Tourists flock to the reserve to see the whales, measuring up to 49 feet long. (March 4) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Injured Miners Treated After Blast

Raw: Injured Miners Treated After Blast

AP (Mar. 4, 2015) An explosion ripped through a coal mine before dawn Wednesday in war-torn eastern Ukraine, killing at least one miner, officials said. Graphic video of injured miners being treated in a Donetsk hospital. (March 4) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Australian Museum Shares Terrifying Goblin Shark With the World

Australian Museum Shares Terrifying Goblin Shark With the World

Buzz60 (Mar. 4, 2015) The Australian Museum has taken in its fourth-ever goblin shark, a rare fish with an electricity-sensing snout and &apos;alien-like&apos; jaw. Mike Janela (@mikejanela) takes a look. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chile's Villaricca Volcano Calm, Red Alert Remains

Chile's Villaricca Volcano Calm, Red Alert Remains

AFP (Mar. 4, 2015) A red alert continues in the area around southern Chile&apos;s Villarrica volcano, though activity dropped since its eruption overnight on Monday. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins