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Spiking the Water? A Whiskey Bi-product May be Able to Clean Contaminated Groundwater.

water fountain

A few thoughts and a cartoon popped into my head last week while reading an article in Grist on oil companies having to clean up contaminated groundwater. The article stated that

“Some of the nation’s largest oil companies will over the next 30 years have to pay to clean up groundwater befouled with gasoline additive MTBE. In settling a suit brought by 153 public water providers in 17 states, a dozen companies — including BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron — will also have to pay a total $423 million cash.”

Thought #1: Finally!

Thought #2: 30 years! How about 3? And how about shipping clean water to homes in the affected areas in the mean time?

The article goes on to state that the estimated cost of the cleanup is $30 billion…

Thought #3: Why $423 million then?! I’m taking that same logic with me next time I fill up my car. “What, the cost is $4 a gallon? I’ll pay $1.50.”

It also mentioned that Exxon Mobile (among others) did not agree to settle…

Cartoon #1: Big Oil’s Mess? It MTBE, It Could Be, It Is!


Thought #4: How can 17 states worth of contaminated groundwater even be cleaned up?

That’s when discovered that a few University of Aberdeen researchers have found that a whiskey bi-product may just do the trick.

The whiskey DRAM (Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants) was announced in early March. This article from the University of Aberdeen does not explain how it will work, but does explain the following:

The DRAM technology is different to current remediation techniques in a number of ways:

It is the first technology that can remove metal contaminants at the same time as degrading organic pollutants such as pesticides. No intervention is required to apply it to contaminated sites as it can use existing infrastructure and remain in place unobtrusively for years.

Now for getting this technology on the market.

The University of Aberdeen researchers – Dr Graeme Paton, Professor Ken Killham and Dr Leigh Cassidy – are considering forming a spinout company to commercialise the technology that could be licensed to land consultants and other companies involved in remediation.

Terrific. I hope this stuff goes as well as planned. If so, we may be able to clean this MTBE mess up quicker than the allotted 30 years and maybe even for the minimal sum of $423 million.

More articles on the whiskey Dram:

BBC news–“Dram ‘helps clean contamination’ “

The Telegraph–“Whiskey bi-product helps clean contamination”

More on the MTBE cleanup settlement:

NY Times–“Oil Giants to Settle Water Suit”

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is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.


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