UMBC scientists receive Maryland Innovation grant from TEDCO to advance bioremediation of PCB-contaminated sediments

Professor Kevin Sowers, Professor of Marine Biotechnology at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), and Professor Upal Ghosh, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, have received a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII). The grant will fund research to that will ameliorate the environmental harms of PCB’s. The program is an initiative of the Technology Council of Maryland (TEDCO) created in 1998 to spur commercialization of scientific research in Maryland as part of the state’s efforts to foster economic development through academic research.

Sowers is a global leader in environmental science and has pioneered a method that uses activated carbon pellets seeded with microorganisms that degrade the concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in sediments. In recent laboratory experiments, the cultures Sowers created resulted in over 80% reduction in the PCB mass after treatment.

“Our hope is that this method for treating PCB’s will have a tangible impact in restoring previously degraded areas – both on land and in bodies of water,” says Sowers. “PCB’s have long been a harmful and largely intransigent pollutant and our work is intended to address serious health impacts these chemicals have on people, animals and the environment.”

Sowers is collaborating in this work with Upal Ghosh, a professor at the Department of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering at UMBC. “The magnitude of PCB sediment contamination and associated water quality problems in the United States is reflected in more than 3,200 state and local advisories that have warned the public about of the health impacts of consuming contaminated fish. These warnings cover 24% of total river miles throughout the United States,” Ghosh says. “The advisories include 100% of the Great Lakes and 35% of all other lakes nationwide.” PCBs are frequently reported as the leading contaminants at impacted sites. Current remediation technologies are expensive, destructive to environmentally sensitive areas, and difficult to coordinate with local activities. The technology proposed by Sowers and Ghosh addresses existing challenges and is especially suitable for environmentally sensitive sites such as wetlands and difficult-to-reach areas under-pier structures in contaminated harbors. This technology advances an in-situ remediation approach using activated carbon that has been recently developed by Ghosh and commercialized through a startup company Sediment Solutions.

The Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) was created as a partnership between the State of Maryland and five Maryland academic research institutions (Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Baltimore and University of Maryland Baltimore County.) The program is designed to promote commercialization of research conducted between and among the partnership universities and it leverages each institution’s unique strengths.

“The MII program is critically important to our partner universities and the citizens of Maryland,” noted Russell Hill, IMET Director, “because it facilitates the transformation of basic science into practical and far-reaching applications. We are grateful for TEDCO’s support and foresight in addressing this important environmental issue and are proud of the excellent research being done by Dr. Sowers and Dr. Ghosh.”

TEDCO

The Maryland State Legislature created TEDCO in 1998 to facilitate the transfer and commercialization of technology from Maryland’s research universities and federal labs into the marketplace and to assist in the creation and growth of technology-based businesses in all regions of the State. TEDCO is an independent organization that strives to be Maryland’s leading source for entrepreneurial business assistance and seed funding for the development of startup companies in Maryland’s innovation economy.

INSTITUTE OF MARINE AND ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGY

Located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology is a strategic alliance involving scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research in microbiology, molecular genetic analysis and biotechnology, using marine resources to develop new drug therapies, alternative energy and other innovations to improve public health and economic opportunities. IMET also contributes to sustainable marine aquaculture and fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and other marine ecosystems.