What is bioremediation?
Bioremediation is a naturally occurring process where very small living organisms (called microbes) clean up contaminated soil, groundwater, and other surfaces. Bioremediation stimulates the growth of certain microbes that use contaminants and environmental pollutants as a source of food and energy.
How does it work?
Bioremediation occurs when microbes come in contact with contaminants such as oil, gas, or diesel in a suitable environment.
Ideal environmental conditions include a balance of temperature, surface pH, available moisture and other factors. To start the bioremediation process, Microbes secrete enzymes much like the human body produces saliva and stomach bile to digest food. These enzymes break down contaminants into smaller pieces. The microbes are then able to consume the broken-down contaminants as a source of food and energy. As a byproduct of the digestion process, microbes release water, carbon dioxide, and other non-harmful amino acids. In suitable environments with ample food supply, microbes reproduce and create additional microbes to further aid in the removal of additional contaminants, and the cycle repeats until the food source is depleted.
How long will take?
It can take weeks, or even months for microbes to clean up a site depending on a number of factors. Primary considerations are the number of contaminants present, the number of microbes present, and the environmental conditions mentioned above.
Bioremediation on concrete
Bioremediation can be used on the surface of concrete to remove petroleum stains such as oil, diesel, gas, grease and more without the need for pressure washing or detergents.
When a bioremediation product is applied to a contaminated area, the enzymes and other active ingredients help to break up the stain on the surface of the concrete. Unlike traditional methods, bioremediation can penetrate deep into the pores of concrete to completely remove contaminants. Multiple applications may be required for large or older stains. Make sure to allow sufficient time for bioremediation products to completely remove the stain.
Summary: Bioremediation relies on naturally occurring microbes and poses no threat to people at a cleanup site. Bioremediation reduces the amount of equipment, labor and energy used to clean up contaminants, and is the recommended method for removing oil stains from concrete by the U.S. EPA. Many states, cities, and municipalities prohibit pressure washing petroleum stains without reclaiming the water run-off as hazardous waste. Non-compliance can result in substantial personal and business fines and even criminal charges. Bioremediation has been successfully used to clean up many polluted sites including retail and commercial businesses, personal residences. It has also been used in the treatment of notorious spills such as the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon and the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
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Editor's note: this post was originally published in July 2014 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.