Heavy Metal Eating Worms!

I recently read about the use of earthworms in India to remove toxins from soils. I found this to be fascinating and wonder if anyone out there has additional information about this cool idea. The project in India, overseen by Dr. Suneet Dabke, used 300,000 regular earthworms to reduce the heavy metals in the test soils by 60% in one year! That is impressive.

What I don’t understand is how that takes the metals out of the larger “Earth system.” According to the study, once the worms have completed their job, they are sifted from the soil and burned. First of all, that seems a bit mean since the worms had worked so hard for us! Secondly, I imagine the heavy metals would be released into the air during the burning process. This is where I am hopeful that you may have some insight for me. I am curious and want to learn more.

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9 Responses to Heavy Metal Eating Worms!

  1. steve satow Wed, April 23, 2008 at 8:56 am #

    Although I am not an expert on heavy metals I think you will find that the intention is not to remove and eliminate them, but rather to reduce their concentration in the soil. Heavy metals are naturally occurring. The problems arise when you increase their concentration to harmful levels by refining and processing. The purpose of worm (or reed bed) filter systems is to reduce their concentrations in the soil. Burning the worms (or reeds) helps to re-distribute the heavy metals at much lower concentrations…

  2. Doug Cherry Wed, April 23, 2008 at 12:10 pm #

    I’m glad you told me about the burning, I envisioned them feeding the worms to chickens to further concentrate the heavy metals, then sending the chickens into space to complete the removal.
    Burning would only work in a closed system, that recovered the metals from the ashes. And then . . . . . re-used them in more NiCad batteries to be sent to landfills.

  3. Lloyd Danforth Mon, April 28, 2008 at 2:04 pm #

    I believe that worms ingest the soil. After their body uses what it needs the worms leave a casting of rich compost like stuff that has concentrated minerals and is valued as a fertilizer.
    I would guess that unless the worms cells absorb the heavy metals, the evacuate them back into the soil.

  4. W.E. Wielechowski Tue, April 29, 2008 at 6:14 am #

    The question of what happens to toxins being processed by earthworms has been in debate for “ever”.

    I had an interesting coversation with a leaf/ horsemanure prossessr some time ago. He claimed that most horse manure will not heat and decay because of all the deworming drugs being given domestic horses. He claimed that the drugs passing thru the horses do not allow natural bacteria and worms to break down the manure. He devaloped a process using high volumnes of air forced through the manure heaps to facilitate breakdown and render the end product free of toxins.

  5. David Tue, April 29, 2008 at 6:59 am #

    Whew!

    I was worried that my Ipod would get ate up by some new computer virus and I’d have to go back to buildin’ houses while dragging CD’s to th jobsite again. Oh! The horror!

    My Heavy Metal is safe! Thank You!

  6. Andrew
    Andrew Tue, April 29, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    Thanks for the feedback and input. I am glad your music is safe David. That is awesome!

  7. Betty J Polley Tue, April 29, 2008 at 10:50 am #

    Earthworms are natures gift to all of us , nomatter what kind of soil you have they can turn it back to its prestine state of being, like bees we are constandly destroying our best friends.
    They are burned as in cleaning toxic soil they become toxic and like all flesh cannot rid themselfs of the substances they save us from.
    The fear is that in time they will develope related ailments that can wipe them out.

  8. Grace Sat, August 29, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    What kind of toxic heavy metals are the worms eating? Just out of curiousity

  9. Andrew
    Andrew Tue, September 1, 2009 at 11:18 am #

    I’m not entirely sure these days. Here’s a link for more about his work. http://www.indiatogether.org/2004/sep/env-vermtoxic.htm

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