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Engineered plants demolish toxic waste

Vegetation may clean up pollution with some help from bacteria

By
3:30pm, October 21, 2014
Quanta Resources Superfund Site

GREEN CLEAN  Using genes from waste-munching microbes, plants may help clean up harmful chemicals in contaminated areas such as the Quanta Resources Superfund Site in Edgewater, N.J.

Greenery may one day clean up the chemical fallout of oil spills and air pollution.

Wielding the metabolic machinery of microbes, plants can now digest polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the ubiquitous chemicals known as PAHs that ooze from oil spills and settle out from smog. The vegetation is still in early stages of development, but scientists are hopeful that it may act as green cleanup crews in future dirty environments. Plant-based scrubbings could be around one-tenth the cost of current methods to clean up contamination, such as harmful PAHs, researchers say.

The United States spends billions of dollars each year cleaning up dangerous waste sites. Global costs are estimated to reach up to $50 billion. The expense of the work — which often covers excavating contaminated land or pumping in chemical treatments — often results in waste sites being deserted without any cleanup.

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