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Earth Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Phytoremediation: Transformation and Control of Contaminants by Steven C. McCutcheon, Jerald L. Schnoor (Wiley-Interscience) A peerless survey of the emerging field of phytoremediation. Phytoremediation involves the use of vascular plants, algae, and fungi to remove and control waste or spur waste breakdown by microorganisms in the soil zone that surrounds and is influenced by the roots of plants. The diverse wastes that can be managed by using phytoremediation include xenobiotic organic chemicals, sewage, salts, nutrients, heavy metals, metalloids, and air pollutants. Phytoremediation provides an authoritative account of the history and the most recent developments of this exciting, emerging field.

Steven McCutcheon and Jerald Schnoor’s insightful book defines the current state of the science of phytoremediation and points the way to further possible applications. Site managers and engineers will receive guidance in selecting plants to clean up contaminated sites cost effectively, while plant ecologists and biochemists will appreciate the nuts and bolts analysis of how phytoremediation works, and suggestions of directions for research. The editors divide their one-of-a-kind text into seven clearly defined sections for easy reference:

  • Overview of Science and Applications
  • Fundamentals of Phytotransformation and Control of Contaminants
  • Science and Practice for Aromatic, Phenolic, and Hydrocarbon Contaminants
  • Transformation and Control of Explosives
  • Fate and Control of Chlorinated Solvents and Other Halogenated Compounds
  • Modeling, Design, and Field-Pilot Testing
  • Latest Advances

Environmental, remediation, and site engineers; site managers; plant and soil scientists; ecologists; and environmental toxicologists, chemists, and microbiologists will find Phytoremediation: Transformation and Control of Contaminants to be an invaluable addition to their professional libraries.

Phytoremediation covers phytotransformation, phytodegradation, rhizosphere deg­radation, and phytocontainment of xenobiotic organic pollutants and select inorganic compounds that plant enzymatic processes transform or mineralize. Consistent with this coverage, the term phytoremediation is defined to en­compass the use of green plants, fungi, algae, bacteria, and microbial mats when one of three vital plant processes is involved in waste management. These processes include (1) photoautotrophic conversion of sunlight to useful energy and use of atmospheric carbon dioxide to synthesize new biomass, thus fueling plant and rhizosphere microbial control and metabolism of con­taminants; (2) green-liver metabolism involving transformation, conjugation, and sequestration of contaminants and the resulting by-products (e.g., plant and fungal glycosylation and lignification); and (3) plant transpiration to control the movement of contaminants in water, soil, and air. Other recent books (cited in Chapter 1 of this book) cover phytoextraction of toxic metals, phytovolatilization of selenium, and phytostabilization of metals and organ­ics. Where necessary for complete coverage of phytoremediation terminology and fundamentals, a few overlaps occur to maintain consistency. In one case, McIntyre (Chapter 30 of this book) introduces two new plant databases-one for rhizodegradation of petroleum hydrocarbons, and one for metals accumu­lation. In the other case, Rock (Chapter 31 of this book) reviews several field evaluations of phytoremediation; include some disappointing field results for phytoextraction of lead.

To broadly cover the latest advances from fundamental investigation to field testing of concepts, seven sections are the basis of organization for this book Phytoremediation. Each section starts with fundamental contri­butions that define the state-of-the-science and ends with chapters on the applications of fundamental and heuristic concepts in practical settings. The first three chapters overview the state of the science and practice, including review of technical, economic, social, and regulatory issues in translating the research to date into practical cleanup applications. Burken (Chapter 2 of Phytoremediation) covers the vital green-liver concept of Heinrich Sandermann, Jr. for plant metabolism. Section II covers fundamental and important advances involving enzymatic metabolic processes, proteomic and genomic bases of plant tolerance, phytotoxicity of selected xenobiotic chemicals, and funda­mental physiological processes that include rooting and root ecology, and evapotranspiration. Sections III, IV, and V cover the spectrum of fundamen­tal investigation to field testing for aromatic and hydrocarbon contaminants, explosives, and chlorinated solvents, respectively. Section VI covers the latest modeling, design, and field application advances, starting with the latest in phytohydraulic control and modeling that establish the state-of-the-practice, then concentrates on applied management techniques for wastewaters, lea­chates, and brines. Section VII presents the latest advances in genetic engin­eering and screening of plants that may be useful in managing atmospheric nitrous oxides and halocarbon pollution, use of plants to control methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), phytodegradation of cyanide in soil, and rhizo­degradation and phytodegradation of dissolved perchlorate. The final two chapters of this section, and of the book, introduce the first plant databases' and review current field evaluations of important types of phytoremediation. The heuristic plant-based practices of land farming (including sewage spraying), constructing treatment wetlands, and developing riparian buffers that predate coining the term phytoremediation in 1991 are covered to unify, recent chemical-specific treatment approaches with the ecological engineering of wetlands, buffers, or tree, grass, and cultivar plantings. The appropriate practices are introduced and evaluated in the scientific context of specific, pathways, transformation products, kinetics, and efficiency in achieving, cleanup standards or acceptable residual risks. The exceptions involve a few' cases where field experience with trees, grasses, and other vegetation establish some beneficial effects, but the scientific basis has not yet been fully explored.

This book is intended to be a definitive reference for leaders in the research and practice of phytoremediation as well as those students entering the field. Practicing engineers, ecologists, foresters, agronomists, and extension agents; waste site managers; and regulatory experts will find this book to be a defini­tive reference on the phytoremediation that is possible, feasible, and proven for organic and some inorganic pollutants in water, soil, and air. Each chap­ter has a summary of practical implications. Where necessary to define funda­mental principles for broad audiences, a glossary and definitions in the text are judiciously applied. Systeme International (SI) units are used (along with English common in most practical chapters) and care taken to avoid confu­sion over decimal points and numerical expression. (The U.S. practice of using a period as the decimal point and avoiding the use of the comma in favor of a space in denoting thousands is used for numbers greater than 9999, e.g., 99800.) Attention has also been paid to the consistent use of significant digits and scientific nomenclature in each chapter to facilitate practical appli­cations of the knowledge worldwide.

The coverage of existing and new practices includes wetland construction, land farming, tree and crop plantation, riparian buffer management, and biotechnology-based waste treatment unit processes to treat most of the major organic xenobiotic contaminants (e.g., phenols, hydrocarbons, surfac­tants, pesticides, explosives, and chlorinated solvents) and a few inorganic contaminants that plants mineralize or volatilize. The underlying theme is the use of in situ, sustainable, and renewable biotechnology to protect humans and the environment, but heuristic, short-term, energy-intensive methods are described and evaluated when necessary for complete waste management cov­erage of this innovative, evolving field. In some cases, design guidance can be distilled from Phytoremediation.

Experts and students in allied fields will also find this book to be the defini­tive introduction to the science and practice of phytoremediation. Some of the allied fields include plant, fungal, and bacterial biochemistry, genetics, and proteomics; enzymology and metabolic engineering; biotechnology; ecol­ogy and ecological engineering; wetland ecology and hydrobiology; plant biology and other life sciences; plant, crop, and soil sciences and agronomy; forestry and silviculture; botany, plant physiology, and root ecology; plant toxicology; environmental chemistry and science; environmental, biological, bioresource, irrigation, agricultural, chemical, and civil engineering; micro­biology and bioremediation; hazardous waste management; groundwater hy­drology and hydrogeology; biometeorology; water resource management; alternative biofuel production; biogeochemistry, global change modeling, and risk assessment involving plants as sinks and sources; indoor and outdoor air pollution control; landscaping; land use planning and management; and en­vironmental and ecological economics and management.

Graduate and undergraduate students interested in phytoremediation should find this book to be an indispensable reference to practical case stud­ies as well as definitive process research on why phytoremediation works and where current gaps in knowledge exist that can be filled by enterprising thesis and dissertation research over the next decade or longer. Course instructors and curricula planners in the evolving phytoremediation and ecological engi­neering programs of study will find this book an adequate text to provide fundamental background and case studies until texts are tailored to this pur­pose. Assignments should be easily derived from the practical elements and practical implications summarized in each chapter. For course organization and planning, the sections group together all the work on major contaminant problems such as aromatic and hydrocarbon contaminants, explosives, and chlorinated solvents following the overview and the basics of phytoremediation-green-liver metabolism, tissue culturing and enzymology, proteomics and useful plant biochemistry approaches, basis of plant tolerance, root ecol­ogy and control, and evapotranspiration. The latest advances available for study include new approaches to treating air pollutants, MTBE, and per chlorate in groundwater and wastewater, and cyanide in soil, especially from the numerous abandoned town gas sites that was the source for street and home lighting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hopefully, an instructors' guide with assignments and engineering design will folio soon.

The extensive involvement of many research groups was also intended to exceptional. The authors of the various chapters represent almost all of th leading teams developing phytoremediation of organic contaminants. In som' cases, authorship is shared among some of the most productive teams fo focused, concise coverage of important topics. Other chapters were specifi` ally directed to full coverage of all known work of importance, especially to involve younger collaborators and future leaders in the field. Despite th outreach involved, a few have surged into prominence in this dynamic feel, since the writing began 2 years ago. The Editorial Review Board was ther:` fore set up to engage some emerging leaders during the process, some wh were constrained by time, but mostly those with review skills and foresigh into the coverage necessary.

A remarkable trait of almost all of the research and development tea engaged in phytoremediation became evident early on, as authors wer selected. Almost all U.S. teams have dual leadership from a science disciplin. and from engineering. European research and development is a bit different where the strength and leadership in the field comes from the marvelou organization and coordination of the COST 837 project led by Jean-Pa Schwitzguebel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne Switzerland, and Tomas Vanek of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. Despite the inadequate funding for research and development noted in Mar miroli and McCutcheon (Chapter 3 of Phytoremediation), the outlook for phytoreme diation based on these productive teams and organizations is very good. Government and industry leaders and the public should look forward to the development of additional cost-saving methods that effectively manage wide­spread, moderately toxic contamination and some more toxic hot spots using sustainable, natural processes that can be easily engineered for the benefit of humankind and the ecosystem of this planet.

To ensure the best quality coverage, all chapters including McCutcheon and Schnoor (Chapter 1 of Phytoremediation) were independently peer reviewed and accepted for the book by one of the editors not associated with the authors. In the case of McCutcheon and Schnoor, a senior member of the Editorial Review Board, Alan Baker, was empowered as ± acting editor to assess the independent reviews and determine if the chapter was sufficient. The reviews started with outlines of each chapter to ensure coverage and coordination. Because of these reviews by the Editorial Review Board and authors of other chapters, some gaps in coverage were filled with a second round of invited contributions. Board members and the editors also highlighted the fast-developing work and the important topics. Once the chapters were completed, three to seven reviews were undertaken. One editor, one member of the Editorial Review Board, and one of the better-known experts in the area (if this did not involve the editor or Board member) reviewed each chapter. Authors of other chapters commented on overlaps in coverage, but also provided outstanding technical criticism. Most of the reviews were focused on chapters that defined a consensus on the state-of-­the-practice that hopefully will lead to several design guidance documents after this book is published. All revisions were further evaluated editorially. Despite the rigor in review, only one chapter was declined.


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