Using Fungi To Clean Up Pollutants

Rozie Apps
Thursday, 5th February 2015

Mycore mediation - using fungi to clean pollutants - is being used to clean waterways, soil and in some areas, even radioactive waste. Here a US project is using locally grown mushrooms and coffee grounds to clean their local waterways.

Various projects and researchers across the world use mycelium to clean habitats.

Whether it is waterways, soil or even radioactive comtaminated areas, the powerful use of mycelium to sequester contaminants, is another amazing feat from nature.

Paul Stamets, an American mycologist has been working for years with mycoremediation, using mycelium to clean up various waste sites. Known as a visonary in his field, Paul has nine patents on the antiviral, pesticidal, and remediative properties of mushroom mycelia. His half an hour talk on how mushrooms can save the world is a good place to begin when learning about mycelium's uses, along with Paul's further research exploring an 8 step plan to cleaning up radioactive contamination and how fungi could remediate radiation at fukushima.

With such extensive work on the subject, many projects acround the world are following Paul's lead. The Ocean Blue Project based in Corvallis, Texas is just one of these.

The Ocean Blue Project, started by two local Corvallis residents - Richard Aterbury and Rosalie Bienek - begun using mushrooms to restore contaminated aquatic habitats in their area.

The project buy locally grown oyster mushroom spores that they grow in a coffee ground mix. Then they create a 'bunker spawn' which goes into the river. This consists of a burlap bag filled with wood chips and the inoculated oyster mushroom spawn. The bags are secured with bamboo sticks and placed on the river banks (see top photo). As the oyster mushrooms grow, they break down toxins in-situ, removing and neutralising the pollutants in the river (a form of bioremediation). Oyster mushrooms have been shown to reduce E. coli and break down hydrocarbons. 

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The Dixon stream project

Rosalie Bienek explains how mycore mediation also helps with weed control. "As we tear down weeds we mulch with wood chips. Mulching does two important things for habitat: controlling invasive plants and providing food for the fungi. Wood chips prevent weed seeds from establishing by blocking the soil. They also prevent existing weed roots from popping up again, one of the big challenges in controlling weeds. The wood chips will protect and feed the fungi we introduce at our sites."

The project intend to study the ability of mycellium to remove mercury and other heavy pollutants from soil and water. Studies have shown the Stropharia species, or 'the Garden Giant' is more effective for removing E. coli, so plans are underway to add the strain into the mix.

"The study shows that mycelium remove more E. coli from slow-moving water as opposed to fast-moving water. This is an important aspect we want to focus on, because ideally these fungi and plants can treat water contaminates but we just don't give them enough time to do it! A big part of the challenge in my mind is to slow down water flow enough so that the fungi can filter the water properly. This would take a big change in our old infrastructure and the financial costs pose a challenge for urban residents," says Bienik.

As well as this project helping to clean up waterways, Rosalie explains some of the other benefits: "By slowing down weed invasion we give our native plants we put at the site a competitive edge on them - this is all part of our integrated pest management program. We don't have to use pesticides to get rid of weeds, we use multiple approaches depending on the situation. Every situation is a little different and we expect that - that's nature! This is why an understanding of ecology is important. When we understand how living things interact with each other and the environment, we can work with the natural ecosystem to solve problems."

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So far the project has been successful but it will take time to determine the full effects. Richard has hopes that one day metals will be able to be extracted from the mycelium which could then be used in computer chips and batteries - waste management at its best!

The Ocean Blue Project also plan to educate the community about unchecked industrial and agricultural runoff and alternative methods to pesticides and fertilsers. 

To learn more, visit Ocean Blue Project's website at www.oceanblueproject.org

Further information

Read and watch Paul Stamet's research:

Using fungi to remediate radiation at Fukushima

Check out Paul Stamet's in-depth book on mycoremediation: Mycelium Running available on our Green Shopping site

Paul Stamet's Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms

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swirlspace |
February 9, 2015 - 3:25pm

Do Oyster Mushrooms or other species thrive in subtropical climates? We're down in mexico looking for additional protection in the mouth of a creek that feeds into the ocean/beaches. Recent tests show E.Coli present above acceptable quantities in the water treatment plant effluence and we need to bring those numbers down. While we can slow water down during dry winter season its a whole 'nuther beast during summer rainy season which sees the creek bursting down as torrential rains pass thru town (frequently) washing away infrastructure, large boulders, etc along the way.

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