Green Chemistry Could be Solution to Sewage Pollution

Source: Hakai Magazine/Erica Cirino - July 14, 2017 in Science/Tech

Green Chemistry Could be Solution to Sewage Pollution
Photo: Steve Daniels/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Compounds that mimic or disrupt human hormones are showing up in freshwater ecosystems worldwide. This widespread pollution is causing the feminization of fish and amphibians, as well as the disruption of natural freshwater microbial communities. It’s even making fish anxious. For people, living near to such polluted waterways is associated with an elevated risk of some cancers. The presence of hormones and hormone disruptors is not a new problem, but it’s one that waste treatment experts have been struggling to solve. These compounds sneak through many conventional wastewater treatment systems. But they don’t have to.

Terrence J. Collins has been working for decades on a technology to solve this pollution problem. Collins, a chemist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has engineered enzymes that emulate those in the human liver. If used alongside traditional water treatment, these enzymes break down the harmful chemicals—including drugs—that are otherwise missed. But here’s the thing: Collins developed and patented this technology, tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand (TAML) activators, nearly 30 years ago, long before worries about hormones in the water entered the public consciousness.

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