CEE Researchers Develop Grasses to Neutralize Training Range Pollution

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UW CEE researchers Long Zhang, Ryan Routsong and Professor Stuart Strand, from left.

Even after munitions and explosives have been discharged, they still have hazardous impacts, such as introducing toxic particles into the soil and waterways. To address this problem, and minimize the pollution that originates at military base training ranges throughout the country, a team of researchers has developed a new grass species.

Led by CEE research professor Stuart Strand, CEE researcher Long Zhang and faculty at the University of York, England, have developed a new grass species by introducing two genes from bacteria that learned to use a toxic compound in explosives, called RDX, as their food source. When toxic RDX particles hit the ground, they are absorbed by the plant roots and broken down into nontoxic substances.

Listed as a potential carcinogen by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, RDX is unique from other explosive compounds as it dissolves easily in water and is prone to spreading contamination. When it rains, RDX can easily move through the soil and end up in waterways.

The paper was published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal on November 16. Co-authors include UW civil and environmental engineering research techs Ryan Routsong and Quyen Nguyen.

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