The Old Inger Oil Refinery waste dump that was abandoned in 1981 in Darrow was a toxic Superfund site until it was remediated with LSU's help using microbes.

A collection of 11,000 microbes capable of breaking down dangerous chemicals and pollutants is being licensed by LSU for use by a national environmental services firm.

The agreement with Cameron-Cole LLC sets a precedent for potentially licensing LSU's microbe library to other industry partners, the university said Friday.

LSU Environmental Sciences Professor Emeritus Ralph Portier developed the microbes library at LSU over the nearly 40 years he has helped private companies as well as local, state and national government organizations mitigate a wide range of environmental hazards in the U.S. and across the globe.

Microbes can be used to break down such things as fuels, plastics, herbicides and pesticides.

Cameron-Cole has previously worked with LSU scientists on specific projects for clients in the manufacturing, petrochemical, construction, waste management and military industries for over a decade. Much of that work has been sourced from Portier’s 11,000-organism bioremediation library.

Now, Cameron-Cole will have that resource directly at its fingertips through its licensing agreement with LSU. The company has offices in Boulder, Colorado; Oakland, California; Pensacola and Tallahasse, Florida; Roan Mountain, Tennessee; and Beverly, Massachusetts, according to its website.

Portier’s library can be described as a collection of microorganisms and recipes that Cameron-Cole can use to design unique microbial communities to help its clients manage industrial and petrochemical waste before it becomes pollution, the university said.

“Remember, hazardous waste is just carbon in the wrong form and in the wrong place," Portier said.

“Bioremediation is an attractive approach because you’re using a decomposer and the natural carbon cycle to clean something up,” Portier said. “Microbes are lazy,” he said. “They chew up the easy stuff first." 

For most of his career, Portier — an expert on ecotoxicology and bioremediation — designed custom bioreactors, or microbial habitats, to do just that. The bioreactors range in size from something close to an ink pen to tanks as tall as four-story buildings. In some cases, Portier and his team would chain different bioreactors together to perform complex remediation tasks more efficiently. Portier has worked with cleaning up wastewater and ground water and soil and sediments.

To date, some 265 sites across the country and 12 international sites have been remediated using LSU biotechnology patents and intellectual property developed by Portier. Some of the projects he’s been involved in include the cleanup of an oil refinery in Ascension Parish; a creosote wood treatment factory in Baldwin, Florida; an army ammunition plant in Karnack, Texas; and a wool scouring mill in Yorkshire, England.

“This agreement will enable us to work even more closely with LSU’s core resources to expand our bioremediation capabilities,” said Tim Hobbs, Cameron-Cole’s chief operating officer and principal hydrogeologist. “These microorganisms have proven to be effective on hydrocarbon fuels, chlorinated hydrocarbons and pesticides or herbicides, transforming them into harmless compounds.”