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About this Article
Written by: Marisa Margaretich
Written on: May 3rd, 2003
Tags: chemical engineering, energy & sustainability, environmental engineering
Thumbnail by: Illumin
About the Author
Marisa Margaretich was a senior majoring in Environmental Engineering when she wrote this article. She was also the Vice President of Programming for the University Residential Student Community. In the future, she would like to attend law school with an emphasis on environmental law.
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Volume V Issue II > Phytoremediation
The natural environment is very easily polluted by the toxic compounds contained in oil. In the past, methods for restoring contaminated areas have been expensive but largely inadequate. A recently developed decontamination process called phytoremediation uses plants along with the bacteria that live in their roots to break down the toxins directly, or to absorb them so that they can be removed more easily. The applications of phytoremediation are extensive and extend from your corner gas station to oil refineries to military bases. The role of engineers in designing these sites to maximize their cleaning efficiency is very important. Choosing the plants, enhancing the process, and combining phytoremediation with other techniques are just a few of the tasks whose outcome helps determine the overall succeess of the treatment.

Introduction

Illumin
Figure 1: Plants may be a solution to mitigate contamination in oil-related pollution.
Petroleum products are an essential part of everyday life. The gasoline that powers your car and the plastic jug that stores your milk are both made from oil. Unfortunately, these convenient products come at a high price to the environment. From the refineries that process crude oil to the filling stations that deliver gasoline and diesel fuel, oil pollutes most of the things with which it comes into contact. Therefore, cleaning up the mess is very important.
William Shakespeare once said, "All the world's a stage." Well then, in a world contaminated by oil, bring in the stagehands. In the past, when a piece of land became polluted with oil, engineers had several options for cleaning it up, but most of these options were very expensive. In addition, they usually only moved the problem from one place to another. Therefore, in the last decade there has been a great deal of interest in a new technique called phytoremediation (Fig. 1). Phytoremediation - using plants to mitigate contamination - is an exciting prospect for treating oil-related pollution in soils.