Sweeping Pollutants Under The Algae Rug

WANT TO GET RID OF NASTY pollutant spills and water-borne heavy metals? Easy: Toss a rug over them. Two biologists at Clark Atlanta University have patented a microbial carpet of blue-green algae, dubbed Microbial Aquatic Treatment System, or MATS, which breaks down organic pollutants and also binds heavy metals such as uranium and silver.

To build the MATS--which can be woven to any size, dehydrated, and stored for future use--biologists Peter Phillips and Judith Bender mix together algae called cyanobacteria and other microbes and laminate them onto a mesh of coconut husks. Developed with support from the Defense and Energy Departments, MATS performed well in pilot tests by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Alabama and the federal Bureau of Mines in Colorado. Later this month, WMX Technologies Inc., America's largest operator of sanitary landfills, will begin testing MATS in hopes of reducing the levels of ammonia in liquids leached from a landfill in Louisville.

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