COLUMNS

The magic of mushrooms

sherryackerman

By Molly Brown

Mt. Shasta City and Siskiyou County face an on-going challenge to clean up the brownfield site at what is now called The Landing, at the south end of town. A lot of clean-up has already been accomplished, but there's more to do.

I propose using a miraculous new method of cleaning up toxic wastes that has come to light in the last couple of decades. Well, maybe it is not so new; it's been going on unbeknownst to humans for millions of years.

It turns out the lowly mushroom has the capacity to convert most toxic chemicals into harmless form, or even fertile compost!

'Myco-remediation' may be a major answer to the growing problem of toxic waste left behind by industrial operations, cleaning up petrochemicals (e.g. gasoline and diesel), dioxins and other chemicals, heavy metals, and even radioactive waste.

Mycologist Paul Stamets describes this process in his book, Mycelium Running, as well as many other beneficial services mushrooms can provide. 'Mycoremediation is the use of fungi to degrade or remove toxins from the environment. Fungi are adept as molecular disassemblers, breaking down many recalcitrant, long-chained toxins into simpler, less toxic chemicals' (p. 86).

Mushrooms love to grow in wood chips, just as they grow on forest floors. Leaving wood chips from logging slash on the forest floor helps rebuild the soil as well as clean up any toxic waste left behind by machinery.

However, I would like to propose something beyond that. What if we saved wood chips from storm debris and forest thinning to spread over the brownfield areas of the Landing? They could serve as a bedding to grow mushrooms that will literally eat up the dioxins contaminating the soils.

I am confident that City or County could obtain a grant to cover the costs of chipping and of inoculation with the appropriate mushroom spores. Within a few months, we could have a garden blooming where barren land and broken pavement now lie. What a terrific demonstration project that would be!

Several videos on the Internet tell the story, which you can locate by searching for 'Paul Stamets.'

Here's two: www.youtube.com/watch?v=BelfLIJErek, which is four minutes long, and www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world.html (18 minutes). Paul Stamets himself may be willing to consult on a project here.

One important caveat: we need keep the renewed land safe from other industrial incursions. Let's reserve the cleaned-up Landing for truly environmentally-friendly uses, such as an eco-cultural demonstration center, providing a model for creating a transformed and sustainable culture.Z

The Landing could host organic gardens and forest gardens, with mostly edible landscaping, all growing on previously polluted soil. We would end up with some delicious edible mushrooms, while we prove that our damaged lands can be reclaimed for a healthier future for everyone.

Maybe, in future years, we'll all have a mushroom patch in our yards, to which we feed discarded household chemicals and food scraps, letting the mycelia convert it all into compost for our gardens.

We humans have so much to learn about our ecosystem, and the vital roles various plants and animals play in supporting life on Earth " including human life.

We may well discover other ways that Nature herself can remediate toxic excesses of our technologies, if we pay attention and find out how to cooperate with her processes " and of course stop polluting soil, water, and air to begin with!