Snack Food that Cleans Up Contaminated Groundwater

Who likes to eat snacks?  Short answer is most of us.  The long answer includes two types of naturally occurring bacteria that are capable of reducing concentrations of contaminants in groundwater.  Who knew that some common snack food additives can help reduce groundwater contamination?  Considerably fewer of us

Sodium acetate is a common food additive used to add vinegar flavors to foods like coney dog sauce and salt + vinegar potato chips.  Calcium sulfate is another common food additive used as a stabilizer in cheeseburgers, mozzarella sticks, and gluten free entrees.  

When provided to two naturally occurring bacteria – dehalococcoides and sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB)- they begin to break down, or biodegrade various groundwater contaminants.  In short, the sodium acetate and sulfate are flavoring agents that allow the bacteria to eat/biodegrade groundwater contaminants.   Dehalococcoides utilizes sodium acetate to eat chlorinated ethenes, including TCE, PCE, and vinyl chloride.  SRB utilize sulfate, from dissolved calcium sulfate, to eat petroleum type contaminants including benzene and xylenes.  

PM Environmental is currently conducting a field scale pilot study at a Brownfield property in Chelsea Michigan to document the increase in biological degradation of both petroleum base and chlorinated ethene type contaminants.  The pilot study consists of adding 10,000 pounds of sodium acetate and 20,000 pounds of calcium sulfate to 50 tons of backfill sand and placing the mixture below the water table after excavating contaminated soils from the area.  

PM anticipates the pilot study to take approximately six to eight months to complete.  If the field scale pilot study is successful in reducing groundwater contaminant concentrations, PM plans to use technology for three future excavations at the Brownfield property as a final remedy for groundwater contamination at the property.

So now you know your potato chips are not only delicious, but help PM clean up your groundwater!

About the Author

Stephen Zayko, P.E., Q.C. is a Senior Engineer at PM Environmental, who specializes in Innovative Technologies, Risk Assessment, Statistics, Modeling, Corrective Action, Remedial System Design and Bioremediation.

Publication Details

November 13, 2015


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