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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Tech Note

Air Date: Week of September 7, 2001

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on a new use for beer in environmental clean-ups.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just ahead, a way of life gone by on the Great Plains of America, but first, this environmental technology note from Cynthia Graber.

GRABER: A scientist at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has come up with a novel way to treat pollution using beer. Tom Harris was experimenting with using wetlands to clean up waste from old mining sites. It's known that a certain mix of bacteria that live in wetlands can cause heavy metals to separate out of the water and become trapped in soil where they can be easily removed. The problem is, these hardworking bacteria eventually lose energy. Mr. Harris thought he could reenergize the bacteria if he fed them a diet high in complex carbohydrates. As luck would have it, Tom Harris was at a cocktail party and heard about a local distributor who each month threw away hundreds of gallons of beer that had passed their expiration date. So he and colleagues started lab experiments with beer, to see if it would boost a wetlands clean-up capacity. So far it's worked, and, if field tests show similar success, the expired beer will go into wetlands instead of down the drain, and the bacteria will get some additional calories to help them conduct their clean-up jobs. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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