BTEX compounds – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes – are natural components of crude oil and petroleum and are used in the synthesis of a wide range of useful materials and chemicals. They are also toxic, and benzene in particular is a known human carcinogen. In some mining sites, as a result of extraction, transportation and refining processes, as well as accidental spills and leaks, BTEX compounds frequently pollute groundwater in all industrialized regions of the globe.
In Canada and elsewhere, remediation of contaminated sites is difficult and costly. When possible, affected soils are dug up and treated or disposed of offsite. Dr. Elizabeth Edwards of the University of Toronto is working with SiREM, a Canadian leader in bioremediation, to scale up and commercialize anaerobic bioaugmentation cultures for in situ BTEX remediation. They were awarded $1M for this project led by Ontario Genomics.