An investigation of the water fern Azolla for the remediation of lead and emerging contaminants from aqueous solution

Roberts, Anne E.
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Nierzwicki-Bauer, Sandra A.
Boylen, Charles W.
Gilbert, Susan P.
Barquera, Blanca L.
Dyson, Anna H.
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The development of cost-effective and efficient water remediation technology is critical as available sources of clean freshwater on this earth dwindle. Phytoremediation, the use of plants for contaminant removal, has become popular in recent years as a sustainable approach for water remediation. As such, a number of plant species have been identified as potential remediation candidates, including the water fern Azolla. This thesis investigated the abilities of Azolla for use in broad spectrum aquatic remediation. By expanding on the heavily documented ability for Azolla to accumulate the heavy metal lead (Pb), this project elucidated differences in Pb accumulation by species, identified environmental parameters affecting Pb uptake, and demonstrated in greater detail what physiological effects Pb has on Azolla and its symbiont. Experiments were then performed looking at the ability of Azolla for use in the remediation of emerging organic pollutants, including estrogen compounds, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products. Azolla caroliniana was found to be effective at the removal of the surfactant SDS, as well as with environmentally relevant levels of the estrogen compound 17 β-estradiol. Additionally, Azolla was found to lower levels of the analgesic ibuprofen in solution and actively accumulate both ibuprofen and the select serotonin reuptake inhibitor, fluoxetine. While only an initial step in determining the viability of Azolla as a broad spectrum, cost-effective treatment system, these results indicate that this water fern has the ability to achieve this goal and lay the critical foundation for continued research in both plant remediation capabilities and phytoremediation design.
May 2014
School of Science
Dept. of Biological Sciences
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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