August 6, 2015
When Jordan Weiss set out to use mushrooms to help clean up the soils and filter the water at the former landfill/brownfield site purchased by the Dharma Rain Zen Center (DRZC), he did so based upon the mycoremediation research of others such as Paul Stamets and his team at Fungi Perfecti. He didn’t set up the effort as a research project. He didn’t have funders to answer to as he volunteered his time and even many of the materials. He taught workshops that brought in the volunteer labor from the Zen Center, the Oregon Mycological Society and neighbors and friends.
Now, to take the project to the next level as a mycoremediation model for the Portland area, Jordan and others involved with the project, like myself, would like funding. Funders always want data–not just university lab data or even other people’s field data, but data from the project they are asked to fund. I’m working with Jordan to figure out what baseline data is out there re: water quality and soils and what more data we need to collect to prove that mushrooms are removing toxins on this site and can do so throughout the Portland area.
The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for the DRZC site is of little help with regard to pollutants in water or stormwater. Essentially, its conclusion was: No analytical testing of shallow groundwater has been reported to ODEQ. In the Phase II ESA, eight soil samples were tested in the area where the food garden is now. High levels of PAHs were found in this soil, causing DRZC to build boxes and import clean soil for vegetable gardening. The area where the raingarden is does not seem to have been tested.
The best place to do future myco-remediation installations may be in the food garden area at the edges of the boxes since that soil had already been tested prior to any mycoremediation efforts, . After the mushrooms get established, DRZC and its partners could continue to test the underlying soils for levels of PAHs. The hypothesis is that the mushrooms and their mycelia will reduce or eliminate the PAHs.
PAHs (such as acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene) are listed by the EPA as possible carcinogens and maximum allowable standards are set for them.
We will want to do stormwater testing too. The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Reports for both 2008 and 2010 tell us what water quality data BES monitors for in its stormwater facilities. From the chart in the Appendix of the 2008 report, we see that they monitor for oil, grease, E. coli, metals, total phosphorous and orthophosphate phosphorous, ammonia-nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen in water.
Here’s what they test in the sediments:
That HCID/TPH is a way to screen for PAHs and other petroleum products in the soil. We do know that BES also does separate soil sampling. Some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby–but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils. While these results show that soils in green street stormwater facilities (bioswales, raingardens) are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, we hope to show that with the use of mushrooms, soil results could be cleaner than the background samples in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.
Since the only water sampling that revealed toxins at DRZC was the seep in the northeast corner of the site², our approach for monitoring the raingarden could start with the first rains of Fall 2015. We would largely be monitoring for pollutants from the parking area west of the raingarden. Parking lots are well-known for contaminating stormwater with PAHs when it rains.
The Portland area is fortunate to have a second mycoremediation project underway in our region. In July 2015, I set up a meeting with Clean Water Services Jared Kinnear and Pacific University toxicology professor Deke Gunderson to learn from their project to test mushrooms for cleaning street sweepings. They hope to get the street sweepings–what appears to be the compost I buy in bags at Ace Hardware– to the point that it is judged safe for farmers’ fields. They set up their project in conjunction with Fungi Perfecti which provided both the protocols and the mycelium inoculated wood chips for the research.
The project has evolved from what was originally conceived. Because of time and labor constraints and the preliminary results, the project was modified from the original one that would have tested five species of fungi to just testing Stropharia rugoso annulata (King stropharia) and Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster mushroom). Then it was narrowed down again when the researchers found that the oyster mycelium stayed on the wood chips rather than spreading throughout the mixture of wood chips and street sweepings.
So they are now testing the ability of King stropharia mycelium to eliminate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or at least reduce them to a level that they are safe to spread on farm fields. The levels of PAHs are tested on a chromatograph at Pacific University. Since once the inoculated wood chips were added to the street sweepings, the levels of PAHs were so low that they were difficult to fully measure, the team decided to spike the experimental samples with PAHs in order to measure the effectiveness of the mushrooms.
The EPA has recognized 7 PAHs as priority chemicals due to their persistence in the environment.³ The most common way to be exposed is by breathing contaminated air but exposure can also come from eating contaminated food. While we were there we met one of Dr. Gunderson’s students ,Hailey Jongeward, who has since shared with me her PowerPoint report on the project.
“Of the 7 priority chemicals we found traces of all 7 in the starting material, increasing the importance of this project” she wrote. Those chemicals are: acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene.
Hailey also shared the photos of the subject material to the right. Boxes get different ratios of wood chips to spores so that may account for the difference in the two boxes. Both show that the mycelium is spreading, but the lower one more than the upper one. Hailey also told me she is working in partnership with fellow Pacific University students Jake Prevou and Natalie Kimura.
I believe that the monitoring of the Dharma Rain Zen Center project needs to take on some similar elements as the Clean Water Services project and monitor soils for reduction of PAHs. It would also be useful to test the water flowing into and back out of the raingarden, but that may prove more difficult because it was not designed for doing such testing. Our best bet may be one identified in the Phase II ESA: “a location south of the seep had water discharge from piping, which was traced to a stormwater surface drainage feature.”
It is exciting to be part of the initiation of a technology–or rather a protocol for utilizing an ecosystem service from the seen and unseen mysteries of the natural world. As we enter an era of climate change, such services will become more and more critical for adapting to changes, mitigating the impacts and healing our past wounds to the earth. I want my business, PlanGreen, to be at the forefront of utilizing the services that nature provides for free.
Please see my previous four posts on mycoremediation on http://plangreen.net/blog/. You may want to FOLLOW this site for the latest news. And do post your comments and questions below.
UPDATE, Sept. 21, 2015
Dharma Rain Zen Center started an Indiiegogo campaign http://igg.me/at/PlantingZen/x on Sept. 21, 2015 that allows you to contribute to their restoration and community building work. Your dollars will be matched dollar for dollar. I hope you will help if you can!
¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report
²Levels of arsenic slightly higher than allowed for drinking water standards was found in the northeast corner seep.
³See fact sheet on PAHs from the EPA Office of Solid Waste at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastemin/minimize/factshts/pahs.pdf