More than a year after the Exxon Valdez spilled about 11 million gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska, experts are debating whether a French fertilizer that helped clean up the spill should be used at other toxic-waste sites.
A panel of microbiologists convened to discuss the fertilizer at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology at the Anaheim Convention Center on Monday.
The process, called bio-remediation, involves the sprinkling of the fertilizer to stimulate naturally occurring toxic-munching organisms to devour toxic substances.
"I think it will work in other situations . . . and have many future uses, said Ronald M. Atlas, a University of Louisville biologist who was a consultant for the Exxon Corp. during the initial post-spill cleanup efforts.
Some possibilities include unleashing the organisms on landfills, toxic-waste sites and contaminated ground-water basins, Atlas said.
He added that it is cost-efficient because the fertilizer helps the organisms multiply.
Bio-remediation is at least 20 years old but gained notoriety after being used on the Alaska spill.
Some scientists maintain that the efficiency of the fertilizer, called Inipol, cannot be simply duplicated in any environment.
"It's not something you can just pull off the shelf and say, 'Let's use this,' " said Hap Pritchard, an Environmental Protection Agency official who has been involved with the ongoing cleanup efforts in Alaska. "You still have to take it on a site-by-site basis."
Pritchard said Inipol must be used minimally to avoid further pollution of the environment by the fertilizer itself. He also said the organisms were less effective in breaking down larger clumps of crude and did not work well in deep waters.
"The question now is really how best to apply the fertilizer and what are the long-term effects," Pritchard said.