Cleaning up disused industrial sites can be a hazardous line of work, however researchers in South America have found an ally in one of the most unlikely creatures on the planet: the earthworm. According to the last issue of International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, researchers believe that earthworms may be able to process “hazardous material containing high concentrations of heavy metal for the bioremediation of old industrial sites, landfill and other potentially hazardous areas.”

Worms have long been used by gardeners to break down garden waste to create soil and fertilizer, but this is the first time that they are being used in industrial clean-up. According to lead chemist Lué Merú Marcó Parra of the Universidad Centro Occidental Lisandro Alvarado in Cabudare, Venezuela, he and his colleagues in Argentina belive that the common earthworm (also known as Eisenia fetida) would also be able to process hazardous solid and liquid wastes with high metal content.

The team has already conducted two feasibility studies to see how the worms would react to breaking up materials of various toxicity. The first experiment saw the term use compost produced by worms, vermicompost, as a successful absorbent substrate for the remediation of waste water contaminated with the metals nickel, chromium, vanadium and lead. Meanwhile, a second experiment used earthworms directly for the remediation of arsenic and mercury present in landfill soils. In fact, the second team saw an efficiency of 42%  to 72% in approximately two weeks for arsenic removal and 7.5% to 30.2% for mercury removal over the same time period.

With the abundance of earthworms in all corners of the Earth, these little creatures could offer an inexpensive and effective way to clean up industrial toxins. The threat of industrial toxins contaminating water supplies has become a serious concern, especially with the increase in computers and other devices containing toxic metals being left in landfills. We’re hopeful that this natural remedy will provide an effective solution to this problem.

+ International Journal of Global Environmental Issues

via Eureka Alert!

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