HORSERADISH CAN DO A LOT more than merely add flavor to beef. Researchers Jean-Marc Bollage, co-director of Penn State's Center for Bioremediation & Detoxification, and Jerzy Dec, a research associate, have shown that minced horseradish can clean up industrial wastewater contaminated by phenols, toxic pollutants produced from steel and iron manufacturing, ore mining, paper bleaching, and other industrial operations. Better yet, it can do the job just as effectively as conventional chemical and filtering technology--removing more than 95% of the chemicals--but with a bonus: It costs only about half as much.
An enzyme in the plant, horseradish peroxidase, when added to wastewater with peroxide, causes the pollutants to form insoluble polymers. They can then be filtered out and disposed of. The horseradish can be reused as many as 30 times. Researchers are hoping to patent the process and are also experimenting with potatoes and radishes, which contain similar enzymes. One piece of unfinished business: finding ways to dispose of the spent horseradish.