Focus on Bioremediation
is a term for a number of microbiological processes that degrade
waste materials and pollutants into harmless by-products such as
water, carbon dioxide and salt. It is essentially the same process
that occurs in garden composting. By identifying and isolating naturally
occurring bacteria or fungi that degrade specific substances, scientists
can promote their growth or genetically enhance them to eliminate
specific contaminants. Genetic engineering techniques could also
be implemented to enhance the biodegrading activities of organisms
at contaminated sites.
The United States has a large number of identified polluted areas,
including land, fresh water, and marine sites that must be cleaned
up. Cost estimates for the cleanup of federal lands alone may be
as much as $450 billion. The extent of contamination in agricultural
acreage, mining areas, industrial sites, aquifers and other bodies
of water is unknown, but the magnitude of the problem is large and
the cleanup expense could be astronomical.
It has been estimated that cleanup costs for Federal and non-federal
lands could cost $1.7 trillion using conventional approaches. In
addition, these approaches produce hazardous waste bi-products and
thereby impose further cleanup and environmental costs.
Bioremediation is an attractive alternative or supplement to conventional
cleanup methods because it is an economically sensible approach
with minimal environmental impacts. Bioremediation has been successful
at many sites contaminated with petroleum products. However, is
not always the first technology considered because contaminant degradation
rates must be determined for individual sites. Improved evaluation
capabilities would help stimulate wider use of this technology.
Research also could lead to development of biotechnologies to remediate
areas contaminated by metals, pesticides, radioactive elements and
other toxic materials.
These types of studies are timely, as recent developments in biology
have provided new tools and approaches for monitoring the environment
and engineering organisms with the ability to degrade environmental
pollutants. These developments have created unprecedented opportunities
for significant scientific advances.
Ultimately, the EBI will benefit Cal Poly and the citizens of the
Central Coast. The environmental impact of oil and solvent spills
that have occurred on the Central Coast are important issues, and
long-term environmental remediation and restoration efforts will
be required. Cal Poly, with its "Learn by Doing" philosophy
can take advantage of this natural laboratory to engage students
and scientists in this real life situation. Our students will benefit
by increasing their value to companies and communities in similar
situations in places around the world. The Central Coast community
will benefit from the positive impact that joint efforts between
business and academia can have on both the economy and the environment.