This document was originally published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Research and Development. Document EPA/540/2-91/002. February 1991.
As bioremediation is considered more frequently as a cleanup alternative, citizens need information about this process to help them contribute to informed decision-making regarding the cleanup of waste sites n their communities. This brochure answers some questions about what bioremediation is, where it can be used effectively, and its advantages and disadvantages.
What is bioremediation?
When microorganisms are exposed to contaminants, they tend to develop an increases ability to degrade those substances. For example, when soil bacteria are exposed to organic contaminants, new strains of bacteria often naturally appear that can break down these substances to obtain energy. At many hazardous waste sites, microorganisms that degrade organic wastes, including some synthetic organic chemicals such as pesticides and solvents, have developed over time.
If bioremediation is a naturaly occuring process, why do some biodegradable organic chemicals persist in the environment?
A number of environmental conditions can slow down or stop the biodegradation process. For example:
In many instances, these environmental conditions can be altered to enhance the biodegradation process. To accomplish this, samples are collected at the site and analyzed to determine what types of microorganisms are present and what nutrients and climactic conditions (such as pH, moisture, temperature, and oxygen levels) can enhance microbial degradation. For example, if inadequete nitrogen or phosporus are available, the nutrients can be added to enhance the growth of the nicroorganisms. if the concentration of the waste is too high, other chemicals or uncontaminated soil can be added to reduce the toxicity so that biodegradation can occur.