Sydney, February 21 : Australian scientists seem to be inching towards an effective way to address health risks posed by mining and farming pollution, for they have found a microbe living in soils heavily contaminated with the same poisonous arsenic that was once used to control parasites on sheep and cattle.
"We'd been looking for over a year at microbes that tolerate arsenic and (chemical insecticide) DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, now banned) and this one popped up. It takes in the highly toxic arsenite, and oxidises it to the much less dangerous arsenate form, which can easily be immobilised (by) other methods," news.com.au quoted Megh Mallavarapu, a professor at the University of South Australia, as saying.
"The bug holds hope of developing an efficient biological method for cleaning up the hundreds of thousands of arsenic stock dip sites in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and other countries, places where arsenic-treated timber posts have been made or used, sites of old railway lines, as well as old gold-mining regions where arsenic flushes out of tailings dumps into surface and groundwater, posing a risk to anyone who drinks it," he added.
Arsenic poisoning may cause cancer of the skin, lung, bladder, kidney, liver and uterus, says research and development organisation CRC CARE managing director Professor Ravi Naidu.
He adds that arsenic is also linked to several skin diseases, nerve disorders, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, suspected birth defects, liver and blood disorders.
"This is a truly momentous discovery ... as it addresses one of the most intractable contamination problems facing almost all societies," he said.
"The microbe is completely harmless to humans, animals and the environment in other respects," he added.