How Earthworms Could Help Us Tackle Water Pollution!
One of the biggest problems where the water crisis is concerned is pollution. High quality water is absolutely essential for both human and environmental survival but the UK’s rivers, lakes and streams are being put under increasing amounts of pressure because of agricultural pollution, surface water runoff and wastewater discharge.
Currently, just 14 per cent of rivers in England meet good ecological status, according to the Environmental Audit Committee, which describes the pollution flowing through the nation’s waterways as a “dangerous chemical cocktail” that contributes to adverse public health outcomes and puts freshwater ecosystems at risk.
There are various ways in which this issue can be addressed, whether that’s by calculating nutrient budgets to reduce pollution in catchment areas, reviewing the self-monitoring of water companies and their practices of dumping untreated sewage in rivers or by prohibiting the manufacture and sale of products that contain plastic.
But it seems, however, that there may be another weapon that can be added to the arsenal in the fight against water pollution… and that’s the not-so-humble earthworm.
Environmental solution provider BioFiltro is just one company employing eisenia fetida to help them treat water, with its biodynamic aerobic system making use of the digestive power of these worms to remove up to 99 per cent of contaminants in water within four hours.
The end result is high quality water that can be used for irrigation, discharged for human use at reduced fees or used to help land exceed its nutrient management goals. In addition, worm castings are generated that serve to improve soil nutrition and health, and improve crop yield and carbon sequestration.
This wastewater treatment process is known as vermifiltration, where wastewater flows through a filter (typically wood chips) that contains lots of these earthworms, which aerate the filter and deliver oxygen to help degrade the organic fraction of the wastewater.
This particular system has already been used with great success in both industrial and municipal wastewater treatment – and a team from Washington State University are now looking into how it could be used to treat dairy wastewater, which hasn’t really been considered before.
Preliminary results indicate that vermifiltration is able to reduce nitrogen levels in wastewater by up to 91 per cent, as well as reducing chemical oxygen demand and at least a third of the total solids (which can see plant roots lose water, instead of storing it).
Furthermore, 57 per cent of the total phosphorus was removed… all of which means it’s more feasible for farmers to use this wastewater as a fertiliser, applying it at higher rates to fields nearby.
It’s certainly interesting to see innovative and alternative approaches to the problem of water pollution and the water crisis… and it may well be that vermifiltration becomes more prevalent in the future. We’ll certainly be watching this space!
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