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UBCO chemist using trees to recycle chemicals from contaminated soil in Salmon Arm

A stand of poplars are being used to draw chemicals from a decommissioned landfill in Salmon Arm as part of a new study at UBCO.
Image Credit: Contributed
August 04, 2016 - 4:30 PM

KELOWNA – A UBC Okanagan professor is working with a B.C. company to turn soil contaminants into household products.

Chemist Susan Murch is working with Passive Remediation Systems Ltd. to pull natural and industrial chemicals out of vegetation in a decommissioned landfill in Salmon Arm.

The project, according to a media release, involves 1,100 poplar trees planted in the Columbia Shuswap Regional District Landfill in 2011. The trees act as sponges, drawing chemicals out of the ground and Murch and her team are looking at ways to extract them so they can be recycled.

The chemicals will be extracted using a process called pyrolysis. Once the trees are harvested, the chemicals are separated from the liquid “wood vinegar.”

Murch says she expects to draw out a number of different chemicals, from varnish to cleaners, which can then be reused.

“There was a time when the chemicals that ended up in landfills were thought of as waste and were left to settle in the natural environment,” she says in the release. “We’re looking to put chemistry to work on a bio-recycling system that pulls chemicals out of organic materials and allows those chemicals to be to be reused.”

The project is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada.

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