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MURRAY -- An environmental cleanup company out of Utah County is trying out some new bacteria to literally eat up years of old solvents from dry cleaning. If it works, it will become one more piece of natural ammunition the company is using to clean up a whole host of underground contaminants.
The Ellis Environmental group is testing the new bacterium behind a dry cleaning business in Murray that was built long before government regulations controlled disposal of solvents. The spot of ground may not look like much, but if you go down deep and then spread out, there are decades of contaminants that have accumulated.
The owner of the dry cleaning business hopes this will work. That's why he's donating his property, hoping this has potential not only for this site, but hundreds of others as well.
The process is called Subsurface Metabolism Enhancement. Air and nutrients are injected at various locations underground. Once there, the new aerobic bacterium grows and multiples, cleaving off the chlorine and eating the hydrocarbons.
"We wanted to develop it so we wouldn't shut anyone down, and we didn't dig any big holes. We didn't get contamination and move it from one spot and put it in another spot. We wanted to consume it right in place and have it done," said Mark Ellis, of Ellis Environmental.
Ellis already has his eye on other sites like the old Geneva Steel property in Orem. "If this process pans out and if the bacteria works, we could clean up virtually all of their contaminant areas," he said.
His group is not new to this business. They've used their technique successfully with other bacteria -- natural organisms already in the ground that just need a little boost to eat petroleum waste.
At one of their sites in South Carolina they removed 99.6 percent of the target hydrocarbons in six months, according to Ellis.
How about this future sensor that could detect a leak in a gas station's underground storage tank? Ellis' group is working on that two. In theory, vapors would trigger an alarm, the leak would be sealed, and the system would stimulate bacteria to eat up the petroleum waste.
Ellis and others like him see these techniques as the most environmentally friendly way to get rid of all our "left-behinds."