Jun 27, 2018

Student Develops System to Clean Up Mine Site Runoff

The system uses natural bacteria to remove heavy metals from contaminated mine site runoff

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) announced that Braden Milford won the 2018 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) for his system that cleans contaminated mine site runoff. Milford, a student at Cascia Hall Preparatory School in Tulsa, Okla., developed a system using naturally occurring bacteria to remove heavy metals from contaminated abandoned mine sites. He won $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Stockholm to represent the U.S. at the international competition in late August.

Students from 47 states and Puerto Rico competed in the national finals June 16 to 17 at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The Stockholm Junior Water Prize aims to increase students’ interest in water issues, research and careers, as well as to raise awareness about global water challenges. The competition is open to projects focused on improving water quality, water resource management, water protection, and drinking water and wastewater treatment.

In his winning paper, “Designing a Novel Heavy Metal Bioremediation System Utilizing Immobilized Algae Partnered with Heavy Metal Resistant Microbial Isolates Collected From Contaminated Superfund Mine Sites and Identified with a 16S Ribosomal Subunit Analysis,” Milford noted that heavy metal contamination is found at nearly every one of the estimated 500,000 abandoned mine sites in the U.S. Of these mine sites, 0.003% are actively funded for cleanup by the U.S. EPA and cost $300 million annually. Milford used a five-phase approach to address this problem. After identifying areas of heavy metal concentration along streams near abandoned mine sites and taking samples of the water, Milford identified heavy metal-resistant bacteria. He then combined the bacteria with algae to develop a heavy metal remediation system.

“WEF is proud to support and encourage these young researchers who have chosen to use their talents and energy to develop solutions to protect and preserve our water resources,” said Eileen O’Neill, WEF Executive Director. “The inventive approaches these students use to tackle long standing issues facing the water sector is both impressive and inspiring.”