TU professor says stale beer can be used to clean Tar Creek Superfund site

Monday, July 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A University of Tulsa chemistry professor says stale beer could be used to clean the contaminated waters of Tar Creek, one of the worst Superfund sites in the country.

Tar Creek is a former zinc mining area in northeastern Oklahoma that was placed on the original Superfund list almost 20 years ago. When the mining ended, chat _ mine waste with dangerous levels of lead _ zinc and cadmium were left behind.

The Environmental Protection Agency has spent millions to clean up the area.

A task force appointed by Gov. Frank Keating has recommended turning the area into a wetlands.

Professor Tom Harris, who is testing water remediation models along with TU biology professor William Rosche, said a wetlands treated with beer would be more effective in removing zinc and lead from runoff water than an untreated wetlands.

``Our research shows that a (beer) wetland could be five to 10 times smaller than a regular wetland and produce many times more of the remediation work,'' Harris said.

He said the sugar-like molecules in beer promote the growth of a ``friendly'' bacteria, which in turn produces sulfide, a key ingredient in remediation.

The element would latch onto metals and bond them to the wetlands' muddy floor, leaving cleaner water to wash downstream.

``The idea kind of fell in my lap at a (cocktail) party,'' he said. ``I was talking about using molasses as a (remediation) agent when a friend suggested beer. It struck me as being a remarkable idea.''

A Tulsa beer distributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, will donate its expired beer to the project. The distributor annually destroys about $200,000 worth of expired beer.

TU and the University of Oklahoma are collaborating on wetland research.

The research isn't connected to the governor's task force but could be used to support its recommendations, said Robert Nairn, a civil engineering and environmental science assistant professor at OU.

Tulsa and Oklahoma are seeking a $320,000 grant from the EPA to further the wetland research, Nairn said.