[ASC-media] Media alert: green clean-up army

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Wed Oct 4 00:50:11 CEST 2006

CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment

Media Release 06/12

Wednesday, October 4, 2006


An army of clever trees, smart shrubs, cunning grasses and designer fungi is about to be launched in assault on the toxic industrial pollution that has plagued modern society for a century or more.

Dramatic advances in biotechnology and scientific understanding of the nature of soil and groundwater pollution are opening the way for truly clean cities for the first time since cities were built.

Scientists round the world are pioneering a new era in clean-up using trees, grasses, crops, algae, specially-tailored bacteria and novel absorbents, according to a new scientific book Trace Elements in the Environment.

"Trace elements are metals and non-metals found in very low levels throughout nature.  In some cases they are essential to life as nutrients - in others, substances like mercury, cadmium and chromium can be highly toxic," explains editor, Professor Ravi Naidu of Australia's Co-operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE).

Of particular concern nowadays are soils contaminated with potentially toxic trace elements or PTEs by old 'dirty' technologies and fossil fuels, Prof. Naidu says. These are thought by scientists to be linked with high levels of cancer and other degenerative diseases in the modern population.

"Self-cleaning of soils tends to be a very slow process, and there is a risk that contamination in the soil can get into our food, via plants or water. There is a major effort going on in global environmental science to find ways to prevent this happening."

Researchers at CRC CARE and round the world are working on an array of new clean-up techniques to extract, lock up or break down PTEs in the soils of our cities and farms. 

Among the new techniques are phytoextraction and phytoremediation - use of plants to 'mine' or convert toxic trace elements in the soil into harmless substances. Polluted areas such as old mine sites are being successfully cleaned up using specially selected or adapted grasses, shrubs and trees, Prof. Naidu says.

"For example willows are being successfully used to convert urban "brownfields" into safe real estate because of their ability to remove cadmium from soils. And metal tolerant grasses are being used to cleanse old gold, lead and zinc mine sites in Australia, South Africa and China."

Other grasses, rich in silica, are being tested for their ability to combat the acidity that is destroying large areas of the world's crop lands.

Naturally-occurring and specially-treated clays, incorporated into soils, are being used as "sponges" to soak up toxic trace elements and prevent their entry into groundwater or the food chain.

In Russia researchers are testing various weeds as sentinels, to warn of toxicity in soils used to grow food and map the dangerous areas.

And "metallomics" - an entirely new scientific field - has sprung up to explore how toxic trace elements like mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium, arsenic, tin and selenium affect living organisms at the genetic level - and how plants detoxify them.

Special fungi (arbuscular mycorrhizae) are being tested for their potential to clean up contaminated soils because of their high tolerance to toxic metals and the giant network of filaments they set up underground.

Addressing worldwide regulatory, scientific, and environmental issues, Trace Elements in the Environment covers advances in state-of-the-art analytical techniques, molecular biotechology, and contemporary biotechnology that enhance knowledge of the behavior of trace elements. 

Containing more than 150 illustrations, tables, photographs, and equations, the book's coverage spans the entire body of knowledge available. The editors and their hand-picked panel of scientific contributors provide authoritative coverage of trace elements in the environment. 

They highlight cutting-edge strategies and technologies for assessing the rirsk and tackling the problems of toxic trace elements in the environment.

Trace Elements in the Environment is published by Taylor & Francis, USA and costs $230.00

More information:
Professor Ravi Naidu, CRC CARE, 0407 720 257
Alison Couldwell, CRC CARE 08 8302 5038
Kim Sinclair, CRC CARE communication, ph 0429 779 228
Kim.sinclair at crccare.com

Book details:

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