Developed new technology to treat contaminated wetlands without disturbing the surrounding ecosystem.

Maintaining healthy wetlands is critically important to our environment for multiple reasons, from supporting a wide variety of wildlife to protecting inland areas from storm and flood damage. Some wetlands are currently impacted by contaminants.  One of the biggest challenges with wetlands remediation is finding ways to treat these areas of contamination without disrupting the surrounding, healthy ecosystem. A team from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently made a breakthrough regarding how to remediate contaminated wetlands in an ecologically sound way. Leading the design and implementation for this team effort was one of the federal government’s brightest young scientists, 33-year-old Emily Majcher.

As a hydrologist with the USGS, Majcher is the co-project chief and co-principal investigator for several multi-year projects investigating organic contamination in wetland environments.

Majcher joined the USGS to work on a project at the Defense Department’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Her job was to examine contaminated ground-water—water located beneath the ground’s surface—that was discharging pollutants into the surface water of a wetland. Under Majcher’s direction, the design and construction of a successful, passive bioremediation pilot treatment system was achieved.

Majcher’s team identified and characterized the areas where contaminated ground water discharged to the wetland, then developed and performed laboratory experiments to simulate how a proposed treatment system would treat the contaminated water. As part of the technology development, the team added a newly identified group of microorganisms to enhance the remediation process. Majcher and her team then completed the design of a unique monitoring system to evaluate the technology performance.    

Majcher supervised and led the installation and monitoring of the pilot test treatment system in 2004-2005.  The monitoring revealed that this new bioremediation technology successfully treated the contaminated ground water. 

This treatment technology can easily be transferred to help the cleanup of similar contaminated sites for both the Department of Defense and private sector sites. 

Majcher worked with USGS to establish a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to allow for the development and eventual distribution of this technology into the private sector. The CRADA allows the USGS to partner with a private sector partner on the further development and commercialization of the treatment technology.

This bioremediation system has several advantages. In addition to being highly innovative and cost-effective, this technology is valuable in protecting the nation’s natural resources due to the passive nature of the treatment system, which protects sensitive ecosystems by minimizing ecological disruption. As a result, this technology is particularly applicable to ecologically sensitive systems, such as coastal areas, that have important and significant natural resources (fisheries, migratory bird refuges, etc.).

Majcher is currently writing final reports that will provide the technology transfer to the technology users, the public, and the private sector.

Emily Majcher has only been in federal service for four years, and more than just building an impressive list of accomplishments, she, as her supervisor once said, “epitomizes the dedication and spirit of young scientists that the USGS is proud of.”