Is there an eco-friendly way to clean up the dangerous chemicals left behind by the U.S. military's spent munitions and explosives?

Some engineers at the University of Arizona's Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering think that there may be, in the form of rapidly-evolving bacteria that has learned to thrive on the military's toxic leftovers.

That bacteria may already be living somewhere in the Arizona soil, particularly on land where military test sites and storage depots are located.

A specialized search for the microbes is underway, led by Professor Jim Field. Since solving the problem requires knowledge in a wide range of disciplines including engineering, chemistry and biology, his team reflects this cross-departmental approach.

The co-principal investigator is Reyes Sierra, professor of chemical and environmental engineering, joined by Jon Chorover, professor of environmental chemistry in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, and Leif Abrell, an associate research scientist from both the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science.

The research is being funded by one of four grants recently awarded to the University of Arizona to address Department of Defense environmental issues.