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Squaxin Island Tribe Further Testing Mushrooms as Water Quality Solution

Jan 5th, 2011 • Category: News

Joe Puhn, resource technician for the Squaxin Island Tribe, takes a water sample during an experiment to test if mushrooms can remove pollutants.

ALLYN — Mushrooms might help treat one of the most widespread causes of water pollution — fecal bacteria from human and livestock waste in stormwater runoff. And if it works, the system can be used to protect the rich shellfish heritage of Puget Sound.

The Squaxin Island Tribe is teaming up with Mason Conservation District and Fungi Perfecti to test how well the vegetative growth (mycelia) of fungi filters fecal coliform bacteria out of running water.

“Several field studies have demonstrated that mushroom mycelia can capture and remove bacteria in running water,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe worked with Battelle Labratories on a large treatment system and found that fungi mycelia can reduce bacteria concentrations. We’re trying to figure out just how well it works on a smaller scale.”

The tribe will put polluted water at Mason County’s Allyn wastewater treatment plant through a series of tests, and track how well the water cleans up over time. If the mushroom technique works on this small scale, it might become a very cost-effective method for removing fecal coliform from running water.

The theory is that mycelia act as biological filters. As they grow, they capture and consume bacteria from contaminated water eliminating them from the environment.

Polluted upland runoff washing into Puget Sound each winter is a common cause for closing shellfish harvest. “Shellfish growers fear this yearly cycle of pollution,” Konovsky said. “We need innovative and cost effective solutions to solve the problem.”

“Our benchmark for cleaning up Puget Sound is whether we can eat its shellfish and harvest healthy populations of salmon,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe. “Mushrooms might be able to help us do that. They could be another valuable weapon in our fight to clean up Puget Sound.

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For more information, contact: John Konovsky, environmental program manager, Squaxin Island Tribe, (360) 432-3803. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, eoconnell@nwifc.org

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