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York researchers make headway using enzymes to degrade groundwater contaminants


A York University research team is developing an enzyme-based technology for emerging contaminants in groundwater, and has so far found success in removing petroleum hydrocarbons.

The team says it is leveraging the enzymes of microorganisms identified in petroleum hydrocarbons to accelerate the rate of chemical reaction. The application results in the degradation of petroleum compounds by reducing the activation energy for a particular reaction.

The researchers believe the work has significant implications for Canada’s oil and gas industry, particularly as the federal government starts to remediate nearly 24,000 sites contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Lassonde School of Engineering Professor Satinder Kaur Brar is an internationally recognized leader in the development of novel green technologies. She is working with geochemist Richard Martel from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientific and TechnoRem Inc., an engineering consulting firm that deals with groundwater remediation.

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“Enzymes are tools in the hands of microorganisms and can help degrade contaminants in the soil,” Brar said in a statement. “Working with microorganisms means you’re injecting a live species into an environment. Enzymes, on the contrary, that are not consumed, degrade after a period so it doesn’t cause any harm to the surrounding environment,” she added.

The next stage for the research, which initially kicked off in 2014, is to test the enzymes in situ at petroleum sites in northern Canada and the Arctic.

“Low temperatures impact the efficiency of treatment, but we have isolated the cold-active enzymes which can be active in cold conditions,” said Brar.

Brar’s team is also assisted by four PhD students. Saba Miri, a fourth-year PhD student in civil engineering and environmental engineering, said that cold enzymes are safer for the environment and for humans.

“If they do make their way into the drinking water, they won’t harm human health,” she said.

The research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.


  1. We have successfully been using Enzymes developed from worm casings in Slovakia for 8 years in Canada with a successful test site in Texas as well. We clean soil and groundwater PAH, PHC and VOC contamination in-situ. Please feel free to reach out.
    With Thanks,
    Brian A. Emms, C.E.T.
    BAE Environmental


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