Microbial Ecology

Assessment of the requirements for information needed for health and environmental risk assessments of microorganisms used in bioremediation


Report no: 2016: 42

Published: 16.08.2016

Main message:

The current information requirements regarding microorganisms employed in the clean-up of contaminated soil and water (bioremediation) is not sufficient to conduct health and environmental risk assessments of such products. That is the main conclusion in a report conducted by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM). The Norwegian Environment Agency has requested the report.

Bioremediation involves the use of organisms, primarily microorganisms, to transform or break down toxic compounds to less toxic alternatives. The degradation process is enhanced by administering additional microorganisms, so-called bioaugmentering.

The declaration form

According to the Norwegian regulation on the declaration and labelling of microorganisms, importers, manufacturers as well as distributors of microbiological products in Norway are required to label and declare products in the Product registry employing a separate declaration form.

The Norwegian Environment Agency uses the information obtained to assess the health and environmental risks of such products should they be applied.

Limited knowledge on bioremediation

Based on current knowledge, VKM is of the opinion that bioaugmentering as a remediation process seems to be relatively cost effective and easy to undertake. The method poses less stress to the environment than conventional methods used to clean-up polluted ground.

There is, however, the potential risk that the introduced microorganisms can affect both the existing microbial community and the ecosystem as a whole.

Limited information requirement

VKM concludes that today's demand on the information requirements in the declaration form is not sufficient to be able to carry out a health and environmental risk assessment.

More precise descriptions of products are required to be able to conduct meaningful risk assessments, among others.

VKM also points out that today's requirements lacks emphasis on the environmental impact posed by foreign organisms. In particular, the potential spread of microorganisms in terrestrial or aquatic environments and the subsequent long-term effects.

Additionally, today's requirements do not emphasize the potential of foreign organisms to inflict disease on animals and plants.

About the assignment

The Norwegian Environment Agency requested the Norwegian Scientific Committee of Food Safety (VKM) to evaluate whether the current requirements for information regarding microorganisms used to clean-up contaminated soil (bioremediation measures) is sufficient to conduct health and environmental risk assessment.

If the current requirements are insufficient, VKM was asked to provide what requirements should apply. In addition, VKM was requested to provide an overview of the different methods of bioremediation measures and microorganisms currently used.

VKMs panel for microbial ecology has been responsible for this work.


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