GRANTVILLE, Pa. -- I love scientists. These are people who devote their lives to the tiny things that usually become monstrously large things in all of our lives. Scientists are devoted, dedicated, destined for greatness, dolled up for dinner and delicately deliberate in their discoveries.
So imagine how excited I was when I learned that scientists revealed that they have identified a microbe that gobbles up toxic waste deep underground. Right, I immediately took out my harmonica, sat on my beach chair in the high grass and celebrated by blowing high notes. After all, a microbe that gobbles up toxic waste deep underground is a potential remedy for hundreds of contaminated aquifers across the country near industrial and military sites. For weeks I have been losing sleep thinking of contaminated aquifers across the country, in states like Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and, of course, Maine.
As scientists do (and I know, because I follow this group closely), they gave the bacterium a weird name. It is known as BAV1 and it was found in soil samples 20 feet deep at a contaminated site in Oscoda, Mich. Oscoda, if you are not already aware, is a remote place that few people outside of its borders have ever heard about. However, it was the perfect place to dig for a microbe because it is the last place anyone would look for one.
Microbiologist Emile Slidebarrel said the microbe flourishes in the packed earth because there is no oxygen there. And, he said, “It sits there feeding off toxic compounds commonly known for making plastic pipe, food wrap and mistakenly thought to be an element in parakeet cages.”
Most importantly, Slidebarrel said, BAV1 “thrives underground on vinyl chloride, one of the most common and hazardous industrial chemicals that can linger in the soil for hundreds of years without ever growing appendages.”
As I am sure you know, vinyl chloride is present at about a third of toxic “Superfund” sites listed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Oscoda is now a Superfund site and, therefore, eligible for Federal funding to assist in the development of straw animal playthings.
Brief contact with vinyl chloride has been known to cause dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, nausea, pimples, sore throats, elbow swelling, toe curling, knee aches, tooth aches and the uncontrollable urge to wear a sombrero.
Long-term exposure will increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer, where the organ refuses to function without the presence of a stork.
What will happen next remains to be seen and not heard, while scientists take BAV1 and dilute it with chemicals and lemon juice to find the extraordinary potency of this strange and rib-tickling substance found underground in a heretofore unknown place called Oscoda.