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Toxic Soils? Fungi To The Rescue.

Images Top Clockwise: ! & 2: Summer Oysters; 3. Turkey Tail Polypores; Shaggy Mane Ink Caps.

BLOG 46: There is a renewed interest in a future for bioremediation of pollution from our land and waterways because of the hottest research in mycoremediation. Fungi to the rescue, again. It is actually really good news when you consider the fact that bioremediation has been shockingly deemed overall to be less desirable to our present methods. Archaic methods which include expensive extraction, manufacturing of solid containment materials and risky transportation to dangerous toxic dumpsites where they are buried, almost never decompose and seem to be forgotten by everyone except the unfortunate people, flora, fauna and watershed in the area of the dump. Toxins known to cause cancer and neuropathy.

Paul Stamets sinks this in us with a 2001 report on the blood of Bill Moyers. An analysis by Mount Sinai Hospital found 84 of 150 known industrial toxins in the blood sample, many of them carcinogenic. If his blood had been analyzed in the 1930s, only lead would have been detected. Yikes, that was 21 years ago. There are surely more than 150 known toxins now.

Bioremediation is the practice of eliminating pollutants from the land using natural biological techniques with plants (phytoremediation), animals, bacteria and fungi (mycoremediation). How quickly eliminating toxins in mere weeks with mycoremediation as opposed to leaving toxins festering underground for hundreds of years is the least cost effective method to mankind? It is mind boggling to me? Who are these people?

What I do know is which type of product or processes emit deadly toxins into our land. They are dyes, pesticides, benzopyrenes, wood preservatives, fluorene, naphthalene, incinerators, transformers, lighting fixtures, paper products, chlorine bleaching, paints and coatings, treated wood, chemical warfare agents, forest fires /wood burning, coal-fired plants, preservatives, DDT, oil, tar, gasoline, diesel and many others. We are all vulnerable to the above toxins in our lives. Being human and at the top of the food chain we suffer by ingesting toxins consumed by organisms lower on our food chain. Mycelia can destroy these toxins in the soil before they enter our food supply!

Why is mycoremediation the star player in bioremedial techniques? Mycoremediation performed first on a contaminated site, as opposed to starting with phytoremediation techniques for example, is the key according to mycologist Paul Stamets. It turns out that the mycelium of many mushrooms can decompose and clean up our most recalcitrant toxins! Mycoremediation works first by denaturing toxins such as petroleum products and second by absorbing heavy metals. Many contaminated habitats contain both. Stamets states that with mycoremediation, toxic fields can be reborn as green fields, ‘turning valueless or even liability laden wastelands into valuable real estate’. How? Stamets discovered how when he realized mushrooms were on the planet scene long before flora and fauna were created. He also realized that flora and fauna kingdoms perform better when assisted with mycelium. We know that Mushrooms wrap their mycelia around the roots of plants like a sock, where they exchange minerals for photosynthesis products like carbs. The minerals allowed the plant to perform at their optimum.

During a research study Stamets covered oil laden soil with straw sprayed with oyster mushroom spawn and then covered the straw bed with cardboard. Watering often. After just eight weeks the ‘brownland’ turned into a ‘greenland’ The oysters ate all of the toxins by releasing enzymes that dissolved the toxins. Then insects and animals came followed by bacteria then came the plants! What was exciting in the experiment was these plants were able to have time to build their own resistant enzymes against toxins while the mushrooms did the hard work. The mushrooms cleaned the soil and then Nature ran its course creating a ‘greenfield’ from a ‘brownfield’. The new ecosystem was also now better equipped to fend for itself.

These enzymes are not just any gobblers…the government of Canada fact sheet says “these enzymes are able to catalyze the degradative attack on a variety of organic contaminants such as pesticides, conventional explosives, semivolatile organic compound, and other recalcitrant contaminants such as PAHs, PCBs, DDT, PCP. Metals are not degraded by enzymes but accumulate in the fungi fruiting bodies.” Hmm, Canada is in the know…now what?


We know different mushrooms degrade different compounds.

Pearl oyster degrades PCBs, PHAs, kalium, mercury, dioxins

King oyster degrades agent orange

Shiitake degrades PHS, PCBs and PCPs

Turkey tail degrades PJs, TNT, organophosphates, and mercury

Button mushrooms degrades Cadmium

King Stropharia degrades E. coli and other biological contaminants

Shaggy mane degrades arsenic, cadmium, and mercury

Elm oyster degrades dioxins, wood preservatives

Phoenix oyster degrades TNT, cadmium, mercury and copper.

So now that you know how valuable mushrooms are to the health of your land, how can you participate in mycoremediation? Do you have a brown field on your land and want to turn it into a green one? The first thing you need to do is to get your soil analyzed. Look at the list above and match the mushroom with the toxins in your soil. Inoculate your soil with the mushroom and when it grows get it analyzed for the metals it has absorbed. If the reading exceeds Health Canada acceptable levels then your land is toxic. According to Paul Stamets one can easily mycoremediate their toxic land parcel or ‘brownland’ simply by covering the area with a layer of straw that is inoculated with mushroom spawn. Cover with cardboard and thoroughly wet. Keep moist. Repeat if necessary. Mycoremediation methods for clean streams can be made by stuffing mycelia inoculated straw, cardboard and coffee grounds into burlap sacks to intercept and filter out toxins in the waterway. So very simple but effective. Someone please tell the city council as it sounds really cheap to do too.

Wow, those oysters are superstars, eh? They are superstars in our diet, too, so never forget this nutritious cancer fighting wonder mushroom must be foraged on known land with no history of industry. It's much safer to go hunting in an old growth forest on Crownland where you are at least guaranteed that no industry ever established itself. Never eat anything you don't know what it is. Don't forget to mind your own business in the forest if you see another animal…so they can mind their own business. Carry on.

Sources: Paul Stamets Mycelium Running 10Speed Press, Berkeley. pp. 86-113


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