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Published on March 25th, 2009 | by Tina Casey


Can Vinegar Clean Up Coal's Act?

March 25th, 2009 by  

Could a vinegar bath clean up coal mining pollution?Vinegar can clean windows, kill weeds, and even cure the common cold.  Now a team of scientists at the University of Leeds is studying how vinegar could clean up sites contaminated by chromium compounds discharged from old textile factories, smelters, and tanneries.  As a source of chromium contamination, coal mining could also benefit from a dose of vinegar – or would that really make a difference?

Mountaintop Mining and Vinegar

Short answer: lol.  Oceans of vinegar won’t undo the damage that mountaintop mining has caused, with hundreds of mountains literally blown off the map in West Virginia and Kentucky.  Mountaintop mining doesn’t merely pollute.  It destroys. The EPA has just put a hold on an estimated 200 new mountaintop mining permits but the damage has already been done, and hundreds of active sites are still in use.

Vinegar and Chromium

What vinegar can do, according to the new research, is provide food for bacteria that grow naturally in chromium-contaminated sites.  Dr. Doug Stewart and Dr. Ian Burke, who head the team, have found that thriving colonies of bacteria can alter the chemical structure of oxidized chromium, which is soluable in water.  Because the new compound is insoluable, it no longer poses a threat to groundwater.  As a means of remediating factory-contaminated sites, cleanup could consist of a simple vinegar treatment instead of digging up contaminated soil and trucking it to a landfill.

As for the future of mountaintop mining, hopefully it will be a short one.  The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity seems to think that coal can provide the “electricity we need…with the clean environment we want,” but they must be living in some parallel universe where you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Image: markyboy81 at flickr.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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