Maciulis: Mother Nature finds a way to clean our harbors
By Bob Maciulis For Sun-Times Media August 30, 2014 9:46PM
Updated: September 3, 2014 2:13AM
It seems every several years someone dredges up the argument about cleaning our harbors, cleaning many of the places impacted by PCBs and other industrial nonorganic pollutants.
They’re at it again.
Our tiny speck of a life capsule increasingly is impacted by our sloshing through the complex swamp within which we continue to search for the answer to the big question, “Why am I here?”
Dan Thomas, vice president of the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, always seems to find a sliver of hope in every bad story about the big lakes that are his lifelong passion.
Among his postings in the monthly newsletter for the GLSFC was a fascinating report about a discovery that nature eventually provides an antidote for even the worst of the man-made pollutants we’ve poured into our waterways.
“Researchers have identified a group of bacteria that can detoxify a common type of polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs,” Thomas reported some years ago.
“These carcinogenic compounds, once used as coolants and lubricants, have contaminated more than 250 U.S. sites, including lake and river sediments. The discovery is a first step toward a bioremediation strategy that would naturally detoxify the PCBs without risky removal of the sediments in which they persist.”
Dredging muck, sediment and debris from the bottom risks redistribution of the pollutants that have settled there.
Still, consumption advisories still are on the books for many places that had been impacted by PCBs.
Many believe that allowing the pollutants to simply be covered over as new sediment settles onto the bottom is a better option than trying to remove them.
In theory, it’s like leaving landfill dumps that were common throughout rural America and simply bulldozing more dirt on top of them.
After heavy spring rains, we still find tops of glass bottles, rusted cans and plastic baby pacifiers protruded from the hard-packed clay.
If nature had her way, would she simply cover up her environmental mistakes, too? Let them melt into the layers of clay and dirt to lay there for eons until someone dug them up?
Nature’s got a better solution, according to Dan Thomas, for taking care of PCBs-bioremediation.
“Development of bioremediation technologies for PCB cleanup would offer an alternative to sediment dredging and disposal in landfills, which is the most commonly used method for removing PCBs used today. Dredging is controversial because of the invasive nature of this technology and the risk of spreading contaminants.
“Researchers have known for more than 20 years that naturally occurring microorganisms could slowly dechlorinate PCBs, which once were commonly used by industry. The compounds were banned from production in the United States in 1977 because of their toxicity to humans and animals.”
Hmm, tiny microbes that found a food supply that’s plentiful and uniquely theirs.
Best of all? There’s no competition.
Just when we think we’re getting a handle on it, Mother Nature shows us that we still have quite a long way to go.