Trees that are used to clean contaminated soil often die from the toxins. Microbes could keep those trees healthy—offering a low-cost, low-energy way to clean hazardous sites across the U.S.

In 1980, a federal law identified the most hazardous sites around the United States, those that contained toxic contaminants in urgent need of cleanup. These “Superfund sites,” named for the initial funding allotted to the cleanups, are chiefly old industrial sites contaminated with pollutants from substances such as metals, oils, hydrocarbons, and explosives, and which are dangerous to human health. On top of the 1,327 Superfund sites, there are more than 400,000 Brownfields sites across the country that are not under federal purview but are also perilously contaminated.

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