Each new giant toxic spill gets announced around the country, but it predictably disappears from the news while cleanup efforts are still frantically in progress.
The soil remediation process, as it is called, is a delicate one because whole food chains have been turned upside down, and sometimes fixing practices are themselves dangerous and just cause more damage. Since this is true, a lot of researchers are learning from Mother Nature's own cycles to correct human errors.
Crude oil alone is technically natural, even compostable – it did come from out of the ground, after all – but many of its refined versions are dangerous. And in the wrong environment, the excess hydrocarbons that comes from coal-ash and other pollution can cause caustic soil, suffering plant and animal life, and toxic groundwater.
Some types of trees and plants can remove harmful elements from the earth. Legumes and birch trees are examples. The plant matter then needs to be transferred somewhere else after it has matured and before it is destroyed. Mulching it on the spot would just add back to the soil everything it has sucked up.
Some fungi and bacteria, on the other hand, can actually alter the chemical composition of dangerous chemicals, circumventing the need for off-site transport. Once oil-consuming fungi are done cleaning up waste, some types are even completely edible. This could be a boon in parts of the world where waste is high and food supplies are low.
And current bacteria studies have yielded not only eco-friendly bio-remediation for land and marine-water oil spills, but also the possibility of neutralizing even radioactive waste such as spent uranium. When it comes to microbial oil-spill remediation, bacteria consume petroleum hydrocarbons or harmful dioxins and emit toxin-free water and CO2 as waste products. Sometimes the necessary microbes are already there in the soil and just require introducing the appropriate catalyst to get them to multiply quickly enough to digest all of the hydrocarbons. In cases where the right kind of bacteria aren't already in the soil, they can be added. Bioremediation professionals such as groundwater remediation Vienna VA introduce oxygen and nutrients to the area – as well as the microbes themselves, if necessary – and the process commences.
Luckily for humans and their many mistakes, planet Earth often finds a way to heal – and we are becoming increasingly skilled at helping it along.