BY MICHAEL J. COREN
Originally published at FastCoExist.com and used with permission
Microbes love to eat our nastiest by-products, like fat, oil, and grease. Instead of using caustic chemicals to clean up messes, why not just employ nature’s garbage men?
When you want something done right, you call in the experts. When it comes to cleaning up the dirtiest, greasiest messes, those are microbes. For the last 3.5 billion years, single-cell organisms have been metabolizing everything from the sulfuric compounds in volcanic vents to the worst toxins humans have thrown at them.
Now they’re making their way into cleaning products. Bacteria, it turns out, love to eat everything we hate in our buildings: fat, oils, grease, sludge, and other messes that cling to the floors, pipes, grouting, and other surfaces. The standard approach has been to use caustic chemicals such as soda lye (e.g. Draino) and toxic solvents to clean up these messes. At best, this is a temporary reprieve. Exposure to such chemicals may also lead to “toxicity [of] the nervous system, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage, respiratory impairment, cancer, and dermatitis,” according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Naturally occurring microbes munch on fats, oils, sludge, and other compounds.”
Technically known as bioremediation, the concept of cleaning up messes with microbes (and biological enzymes) has been around since the 1940s. Typically it has been used on massively contaminated areas like abandoned mines or Superfund sites.
But bioremediation now comes in a bottle. Harmless, naturally occurring microbes in the environment such as bacillus and pseudomonas–which munch on fats, oils, sludge, and other compounds–are collected, cultured, and packaged for specific clean-up jobs, saysJohn Beattie, director of business development at Blue Eagle Products which manufactures the cleaning solutions. His job has gotten easier in the last 15 years as the technology to isolate, grow, and store the right microbes for the job has improved dramatically.
Living cleaning solutions are now cost-competitive and superior to their toxic chemical counterparts, says Beattie. Their only byproduct is carbon dioxide and water, while the cleaning solution keeps working as long as food, moisture, and oxygen are available for the bugs.
Beattie says Blue Eagle’s products have fixed chronic problems with the kitchen drain lines in the 100-year-old Coronado Hotel in San Diego, and eliminated smells from multi-thousand-gallon grease interceptor tanks at the University of San Diego. Biomremediation’s greatest success of late, however, is attributable to nature: The oil spilled during BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster was eaten by hydrocarbon loving bacteria in the wild.
Still, the concept hasn’t made much of a dent in the chemical cleaning solution market. Why? The poor early performance of early microbial (and enzymatic) cleaning products and “the mind set of people in the marketplace,” says Beattie.
“I have been manufacturing and marketing bioactive products for several years now and have presented the products to many people whose position was, ‘If it ain’t going to kill you if you misuse it, it ain’t going to work here,'” he says. “Bioactive products fall into the green category which is a good thing for the environment, but has negative connotations to an old school chemical buyer because early green efforts resulted in products that did not perform as well as their toxic and caustic counterparts. … The acceptance of bioactive products is just happening now.”
BY ASHLEY MACKIN
This article originally appeared in the La Jolla Light and is used with permission
When the second and final phase of this year’s Cove cleanup began Sept. 24, it marked the beginning of the end of the infamous stench. San Diego Department of Park and Recreation spokesperson Bill Harris reported to La Jolla Light that he considers the cleanup to be a success, based on its predetermined intention.
Harris pointed out that the goal was to diminish, not completely eliminate, the pungent odors resulting from years of animal guano buildup on the Cove cliffs. The noticeably reduced odor, as well as feedback from the community, indicate the effort worked.
As they did during the first phase of the cleanup on May 28, Blue Eagle Distribution crews applied a product containing bioactive agents to the rocks, which Harris said digests guano and essentially digests itself, so there is no need for removal of the product.
The second phase came only with clearance from a biological consultant that the nesting season for area birds is over. After “a longer nesting season than we thought,” Harris said crews started with the area in front of the Cave Store. The following two days, the area in front of Brockton Village restaurant (or, above “The Clam”) was sprayed. The final area, the rock formation closest to the actual Cove, was cleaned Friday, Sept. 27.
It took several years for the guano to accumulate and cause the smell to get to the level it was at, so Harris said the city has not discussed when another application might be needed.
Harris said both applications addressed “years and years of buildup,” and that it could be another several years before the issue resurfaces. At that time, the city would evaluate community input and available financial resources, as well as consult with a biological consultant before making a decision about whether to move forward with another application.
The city will, however, continue to monitor the Cove for changes in odor and pungency.
As to any frequency or regularity of future sprayings or exploring other cleansing solutions, Harris said no decision has been made. Posted notices indicated the crews could be out as late as Oct. 4, based on wind predictions. However, Harris said the wind was not as strong as weather forecasters predicted, which allowed Blue Eagle crews to finish sooner.
All the cliffs that were identified as in need of service (and safe to access) were treated with the “cleansing” product. Crews would spray an initial layer onto the rocks, targeting areas with dense guano buildup, then a few hours later, would apply another layer to the broader area.
District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner said of the cleaning process, “The private contractor has been able to substantially reduce the foul smells by applying two phases of a mix of odor-eating bacteria to the cliffs covered by bird droppings. I am committed to continue working with all stakeholders to assess the long-term success of this effort and to look for additional ways to keep the odor under control in the future.”
Joanna Capps, assistant general manager at La Jolla Cove Suites, which has been adversely affected by the longtime Cove odors, said she has already noticed a change for the better.
“It has definitely diminished. It’s not as bad and not as frequent,” Capps said. “It was really bad for us before. We had guests complain, check out early and say they weren’t coming back.”
She added that she was hopeful the burden to businesses is over, “We like that we can tell guests the city has done something about this and they can come enjoy La Jolla again.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: THURSDAY, JUNE 27, 2013
From a press release issued by the City of San Diego, Office of the Mayor
SAN DIEGO – Mayor Bob Filner announced today the successful completion of the first phase of the odor cleanup effort in La Jolla. The City’s contractor has been able to substantially reduce odors related to bird guano deposits and has set the stage for an even more extensive second phase of the cleanup effort, now set for early August.
“There has been an amazing change since we got started out here,” said Mayor Filner. “I told the guys from Blue Eagle that I wanted this done right, and they took care of it. This is a great success,” said the Mayor.
The City hired Blue Eagle Distribution, Inc., to apply a proprietary mix of odor-eating bacteria to the cliffs covered by the guano. The solution was laid down over the past week under the ever-watchful eyes of environmental consultants and a biologist hired to monitor wildlife and the waters surrounding the work site.
The City’s contract required the Blue Eagle team to avoid any nesting birds or other wildlife that might be disturbed by the odor remediation work. That stipulation has prevented the Blue Eagle cres from covering as much area as they had hoped. “We wanted to get further along the cliffs,” said Lance Rodgers, leader of the Blue Eagle team. “We had hoped to get our applications over a larger area in this first phase, but due to the concerns for nesting birds and hatchlings, we were unable to.”
“This has always been planed as a two-hase effort,” said Mayor Filner. “We knew there might be some limitations becuase of the nesting season and we understand that some of the odor may linger a bit longer,” he said. “Even so, what Blue Eagle has accomplished so far is amazing. The odor is down and fun is back up in La Jolla,” he said.
The Blue Eagle team will return to the cliffs following the nesting season to apply another round of its product across a broader work area. It is hoped that this two-phase approach will relieve the persistent odor problem throughout the coming year. Mayor Filner has committed to working with the community to assess the long-term success of this effort and will be making plans with environmental experts to help prevent this concern in the future.
BY DEBORAH SULLIVAN BRENNAN
Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune on June 21, 2013
Bacterial odor eaters are cleaning the La Jolla cliffs, aiming to banish the bird poop stench that has plagued the coastal town.
Starting last week environmental contractors applied a foamy mixture of bacillus bacteria – a kind of microbial Scrubbing Bubbles – to the guano buildup at the picturesque cove.
“They’re getting it on fairly thick,” said Bill Harris, a spokesman for the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department. “At least anecdotally, the first day did make an impact on the smell.”
Sheila Fortune, executive director of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association, said her assistant, who had just run an errand at the cove Friday afternoon, reported major progress.
“She said it is much better,” Fortune said. “She said she really couldn’t smell anything today. So that is a great improvement.”
Fortune said the treatment is a welcome step toward resolving the problem.
“We’re definitely relieved. It’s very important that our tourists and our business owners have pleasant experiences when they travel here. Hopefully this is going to be the beginning of a nice fix for everyone.”
Patrick Ahern, a La Jolla realtor and board member of La Jolla Parks and Beaches, said the absence of odor is evidence of success.
“We’re noticing an improvement by noticing nothing,” he said.
The city had grappled with accumulated droppings from gulls and cormorants since last fall, when the foul smell drew national headlines and local outrage. City officials received dozens of pitches for products and procedures aimed at solving the problem, correspondence showed, and considered myriad ways to stem the stench.
City staff fielded pitches from producers of other biologically based cleaners, as well as proposals to power-wash the cliffs from fire-boats, haze the birds with trained falcons, or install tarps or spikes to deter the roosting animals. But they faced limits from regulators, who warned that the solution could not disrupt wildlife or send runoff to the ocean.
Last month the city settled on Blue Eagle, a San Rafael-based firm that uses a mix of bacillus bacteria to consume the bird droppings. The company has supplied similar odor eating solutions to the city of Sacramento and the Colorado Springs Zoo.
Their products employ microbes to digest waste including sewage, garbage odor, commercial kitchen grease and even petroleum spills, said CEO Robert Ahern.
The bacteria are selected for safety and effectiveness, and digest the bird droppings through the Krebs cycle, by which organisms generate energy by breaking down food and releasing carbon dioxide and water
The microbes out-compete other strains that release foul-smelling methane or hydrogen sulfide, quickly cutting the odor, Ahern said. Eventually they digest the bird droppings and then die off naturally.
On May 29, the company treated a test patch of the cliffs, and then returned to the lab to fine-tune the formulation. Blue Eagle adjusted the solution to the right viscosity, adding foaming agents and removed its signature blue dye to avoid staining the rocks, Harris said.
Last week they began treating the cliffs, starting with a ledge opposite the restaurant Brockton Villa. Contractors started before dawn and wrapped up by noon to avoid peak tourism hours, steering clear of nesting gulls.
“They got rigged up, got hoses ready, began applying the product under the watchful eye of the monitoring biologist, who was eagle-eyed,” Harris said.
Harris said the treatment will continue on weekday mornings until the end of the month. Contractors will make a second pass in late July, he said, when nesting season is over. The cost of the two treatments is just under $50,000, and city officials said last month that they will need to repeat the treatment a couple times a year to keep the odor at bay.
In the meantime La Jollans are breathing a sigh of relief.
“We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a long-term plan to keep the cove clean so its beauty can be experienced and enjoyed by locals and tourists year-round,” Dave and Megan Heine, owners of the La Jolla restaurant Brockton Villa, said in a statement.
BY IAN LOVETT
Originally published in The New York Times on June 21, 2013
SAN DIEGO — Depending upon whom you ask, the smell that has plagued La Jolla Cove has been “putrid,” “noxious” or “like the East River used to smell,” for quite a while. Nose-pinching is commonplace.
But now, the stench of bird guano emanating from the cliffs in the seaside neighborhood has become, officially speaking, a public health emergency.
City officials believe they finally have a solution: guano-eating bacteria. And so, early each morning this week, workers lowered themselves onto the rocks with ropes and applied a solution made up of seven kinds of bacteria that digest animal feces.’