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Enormous quantities of organic and inorganic compounds are released into the environment each year as a result of human activities. In some cases these releases are deliberate and well regulated (e.g. industrial emissions) while in other cases they are accidental (e.g. chemical or oil spills). Petroleum and its products are one of the most common environmental pollutants. They are a fire hazard, threat to marine life, and a source of air and groundwater pollution. They contaminate land and water bodies by accidental spills like the Alaska Oil spill in 1989 and oil spills during the Gulf War, leakage from pipelines, and other human activities. Detoxification of the contaminated sites is expensive and time consuming by conventional chemical or physical methods.

Bioremediation consists of using naturally occurring or laboratory cultivated micro-organisms to reduce or eliminate toxic pollutants. Petroleum products are a rich source of energy and some organisms are able to take advantage of this and use hydrocarbons as a source of food and energy. This results in the breakdown of these complex compounds into simpler forms such as carbon dioxide and water. Bioremediation thus involves detoxifying hazardous substances instead of merely transferring them from one medium to another. This process is less disruptive and can be carried out at the site which reduces the need of transporting these toxic materials to separate treatment sites.

Using bioremediation techniques, TERI has developed a mixture of bacteria called 'oilzapper' which degrades the pollutants of oil-contaminated sites, leaving behind no harmful residues. This technique is not only environment friendly, but also highly cost-effective.


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