Water pollution is a significant problem that can persist for years and affect the health of the surrounding wildlife. It can lead to serious health problems in any person who comes into contact with pollution. Traditional solutions include the use of mechanical or chemical processes to reduce pollution, but these methods may be costly or have other side effects.
A new method for cleaning up water involves microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi. This fact may be surprising. How can adding germs to water make it cleaner? As it turns out, bioremediation is a safe and effective way to remove specific pollutants while avoiding high costs.
How Microorganisms Remove Pollutants
All life-forms need a source of energy and nutrients to survive and thrive. Many microorganisms can consume organic substances surrounding them. They break down these substances, enabling them to obtain energy that they use to move around and reproduce.
In many cells, the end product is carbon dioxide and water, both of which do not contribute much to water pollution. Other cells release partially broken down chemicals, allowing different types of microorganisms to consume these by-products and complete the decomposition.
Many pollutants are organic. They are composed mainly of carbon atoms and can be found widely in nature. As a result, life-forms such as bacteria or fungi can interact with these pollutants to neutralize them. People see this all the time; the decomposition of food is a prime example of microorganisms using organic substances to sustain themselves.
Some pollutants are inorganic, such as lead or other heavy metals. However, certain microbial species can still interact with these chemicals. These life-forms integrate these inorganic chemicals into their cells, where they play useful roles similar to how vitamins work inside the human body. As a result, the amount of these substances remaining in the water decreases.
Finally, bioremediation helps with a form of pollution involving pathogenic microorganisms. These cells can infect humans and other organisms, causing harmful diseases. With the use of bioremediation, these harmful microorganisms struggle to thrive since beneficial bacteria and fungi compete with them for resources. Hence, their population decreases, and the water becomes healthier.
The use of microorganisms to remove pollution is commonly done using two methods. First, people may directly add the organisms into polluted areas. An example of this technique is the use of Bokashi balls, composed of mud, food stock for fermentation, and the microorganisms themselves. Staff members dump these balls into polluted areas where they slowly dissolve, releasing the organisms and allowing them to do their work.
Another method is to treat polluted water in specialized facilities. Many water treatment plants use this technique as part of the purification process. These plants make use of microorganisms in bioreactors, where they digest organic pollutants, leaving cleaner water that can pass through further treatment.
Benefits And Downsides Of Bioremediation
Bioremediation is cheaper than other processes since people can use fewer materials. Since the microorganisms can reproduce, even adding a small number of organisms can be enough to clean polluted water. Bioremediation is also safer since there is no need to use harsh chemicals. If the microorganisms are indigenous to the area, bioremediation can work with minimal disruption to the local life.
However, bioremediation requires extensive planning to ensure that the microorganisms used are suitable for the job. Also, severe pollution can create extremely toxic environments, which is unsuitable for beneficial microbial growth. Still, it’s been proven to work, so it’s worth implementing on a large scale.