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"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.
Sherwood Lollar is taking 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 technologiesusing 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 differen
|Contact: Michael Adams|
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council