New Math Tool Measures The Duration of Pollutants in Soil

Just as important as the natural foods we eat to our health is the quality of the soil in which we grow our fruits and vegetables and feed our animals. Although I spend a lot time on this Blog sharing health news, this story about Johns Hopkins University researchers devising a new mathematical tool that accurately predicts how long certain pollutants, including pesticides and pharmaceuticals, remain in soil really caught my attention.

Their work is timely because researchers and public officials have become increasingly concerned about pharmaceuticals and personal care products that have been detected in soil and water. Environmental engineers are seeking better ways to track these emerging pollutants, which tend to be more complex and water-soluble than previous contaminants of concern, such as chlorinated solvents and petroleum byproducts.

This new approach is important because environmental regulators and cleanup consultants need to know the extent to which hazardous contaminants will linger on a piece of land and the rate at which they will migrate toward critical water resources and supplies. The new approach will help them decide whether the pollutants need to be removed and how best to accomplish this, researchers say.

A graduate student who helped lead the project pointed out if chemicals are released into the environment, society must know what will happen to them. For many years, scientists made predictions with a method that doesn't work very well on many chemical pollutants in soil.

The new tool is based on a breakthrough by chemists who study how medications move from the bloodstream into human tissue. At a meeting last year, the graduate student attended a lecture by Kai Uwe Goss, a senior research scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, who suggested this approach might be used to predict the behavior of soil pollutants.

EurekAlert August 26, 2004

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