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Faculty Stay Actively Engaged in Environmental Work

In the wake of big oil spills such as the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Victor Ibeanusi thinks small — microscopically small. While many have focused on the harm done to seabirds, fish, and other creatures, Spelman’s chair of environmental science is looking at the harm done to the microbes that are the building blocks of all life.

Dr. Ibeanusi’s laboratory at Spelman has developed a patented microbial system that has been successful in breaking down toxic metals and volatile organic compounds,similar to those associated with crude oil. With support from the U.S. Army Research Office, he and his students have shown the system is effective in breaking down munitions waste. Likewise, they have proven that it works in removing metals from a coal pile runoff in water at the Savannah River site near Aiken, S.C.

Currently Dr. Ibeanusi is working with students on cleaning up a million-barrel oil spill in Michigan. When a pipeline near Marshall broke, it spilled oil first into Battle Creek and then the Kalamazoo River, threatening aquatic life in the Great Lakes. But working with the Superfund Division of the EPA’s Region 5, Dr. Ibeanusi and the Spelman students have a chance to break it up before it causes more harm.

And their impact doesn’t stop there. Inspired by their hands-on work in the Spelman lab, several students are pursuing an environmental focus in graduate studies, while others have enrolled in medical school. They are considering the big and the small in enhancing life.