On Mycoremediation: An Interview With Paul Stamets

Paul Stamets, a mycoremediation expert, explains some of the ways mushrooms can lead to a healthier Earth—all by using natural means.

  • A stream where mycofiltration and mycoremediation methods have been implemented to act as natural water filters.
    Photo by Paul Stamets
  • Oyster mushrooms have the ability to break down petroleum-based contaminants and also capture and eat E. Coli through mycofiltration and mycoremediation, making them a naturally occurring water filter.
    Photo by fotolia/robynmac
  • Leila Darwish explores a variety of powerful grassroots bioremediation techniques that work with many microorganisms, mushrooms and plants in “Earth Repair.”
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

There are many naturally-occurring plants and species that have the ability to heal the earth. In Earth Repair (New Society Publishers, 2013), author Leila Darwish dives into bioremediation techniques that work with many of the world’s oldest disaster responders, alchemists and healers. The following excerpt is from Chapter 6, “Mycoremediation.”

Buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Earth Repair.

Paul Stamets, D.Sc. is the leading mycorestoration visionary and author of several guidebooks on everything from how to cultivate gourmet and medicinal mushrooms to mycoremediation. With his many mycorestoration projects, resources, experiments and seminars, Stamets is constantly pushing the edge of what is possible when it comes to the healing forces of fungi.

Leila Darwish: What are some of the things you are working on at the moment with mycofiltration or mycoremediation?

Paul Stamets: We have several projects in Mason County, Washington, USA using burlap sacks for filtering greywater. We try to find choke points where there is confluence, where we can have the maximum effect by putting mycelium at these points. Then we are able to capture contaminants and ameliorate the impact downstream of those choke points. The water tends to carry more than just one contaminant, so it is not uncommon for the water to have E. coli, pesticides, nitrates and phosphorous (for example). This is where mycoremediation and mycofiltration offer some unique advantages. Oyster mushrooms will not only break down petroleum-based contaminants; they will also capture and eat E. coli, a fecal coliform bacterium, so you get a two-for-one with that species.

The more sophisticated approach would be addressing the different types of contaminants species-specifically — which means we would put a serial number of species together. You can imagine one row of burlap sacks filled with oyster mushrooms, at the front, to capture petroleum products as well as E. coli. If there was a mercury output from an upland source, then turkey tails have been well demonstrated to bind up mercury and mercuric ions in water with the selenium that the mycelium traps. The selenium and mercury come together form a biomolecular bond or unit that is totally non-toxic. That is one simple example where you could use oyster mushroom and turkey tails serially and then you are also using and amplifying indigenous species. These two mushrooms are prime candidates as they literally occur in every woodland in the world. They are circumpolar — from the tropics to the boreal forest up north.

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