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Solid Waste and
A Citizen’s Guide to
Technology Innovation Office
Technology Fact Sheet
Printed on Recycled Paper
A Quick Look at Bioremediation
• Uses naturally occurring microorganisms to break down hazardous substances into less toxic or nontoxic
• A cost effective, natural process applicable to many common organic wastes.
• Many techniques can be conducted on-site.
What is bioremediation?
Bioremediation is a treatment process that uses naturally
occurring microorganisms (yeast, fungi, or bacteria) to
break down, or degrade, hazardous substances into less
toxic or nontoxic substances. Microorganisms, just like hu-
mans, eat and digest organic substances for nutrients and
energy. In chemical terms, “organic” compounds are those
that contain carbon and hydrogen atoms. Certain microor-
ganisms can digest organic substances such as fuels or sol-
vents that are hazardous to humans. The microorganisms
break down the organic contaminants into harmless prod-
ucts—mainly carbon dioxide and water (Figure 1). Once
the contaminants are degraded, the microorganism popula-
tion is reduced because they have used all of their food
source. Dead microorganisms or small populations in the
absence of food pose no contamination risk.
How does it work?
Microorganisms must be active and healthy in order for
bioremediation to take place. Bioremediation technologies
assist microorganisms’ growth and increase microbial
populations by creating optimum environmental conditions
for them to detoxify the maximum amount of contami-
nants. The specific bioremediation technology used is de-
termined by several factors, for instance, the type of micro-
organisms present, the site conditions, and the quantity and
toxicity of contaminant chemicals. Different microorgan-
isms degrade different types of compounds and survive
under different conditions.
Indigenous microorganisms are those microorganisms that