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Worm Poo

by Nomad Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 12:37:48 PM EST

Alas, another diary about poo.

But factually, it's about Lumbriculus variegatus. That is the name of a common water-abiding worm. The worm is also the central subject of Tim Hendrickx's PhD thesis which he defends tomorrow at the University of Wageningen.

Hendrickx investigated the problem of waste sludge - that is, the waste product that remains after human sewage has passed through sewage treatment: sludge. Highly concentrated in phosphate, sludge makes good fertilizer (when absent of heavy metals), and this use has been encouraged by the European Commission.

However, with more sludge produced than turned into fertilizer, disposing sludge on dumps or incinerating it is a costly and environmentally unfriendly affair. Who you gonna call? Lumbriculus variegatus!


The Lumbriculus worms actually can feed on the sludge, heads buried while breathing oxygen through their bottom end. What's more: their own excrement is a vast improvement over waste sludge: poo pellets from the worms subside to the bottom because of their increased compactness, and in total the volume of the sludge is reduced by an approximate two thirds.

Hendrickx, who discovered this behaviour of the Lumbricus, dedicated his research to find the optimal conditions (oxygen level, temperature, light exposure) for worms to thrive.

What's more, when the worms are done eating and procreating, their surplus in numbers can serve as fish food: salmon, for instance, eat predominantly meat. And fish farms now need to purchase this for their stock.

The Lumbriculus genus has a specific way of reproducing: adults worms spontaneously split up and both parts grow back into two individual worms, which both can split up again in due time. That means no larvae or egg stages will clutter up the tank. It's pure worm.

Of course, waste treatment worms can only serve as food when it is guaranteed they're "clean" - they shouldn't form a reservoir for, say, hormones of heavy metals by digesting the waste sludge. So far it has been found that heavy metals pass straight through, but for hormones, or medicinal components, this still needs to be determined. Another challenge will be whether it is possible to successfully upscale the worm reactors: so far the gross of the experiments have taken place in laboratory tanks.

My previous poo-diary, Cook on Poop, covered the opposite side of the spectre: instead of massive waster treatment plants, small-scale centralized waste treatment. I'm curious which system will prove to be the optimal recycling scheme.

I thought about including pictures in this diary, but I'm not sure how appetizing it would become.

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In the immortal words of Wayne Campbell - Excremente!

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 01:36:20 PM EST
In the Finnish pulp and paper mills, critter-cleaning is widely used on water waste. Deep outdoor pools collect the waste water which is slowly aerated and stirred by machines which sit under the water, giving a nice environment for some hungry bacteria (though don't ask me what sort).

Treated water goes back into rivers, and - since salmon are extremely sensitive to pollution - be proved to be safe.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 01:44:48 PM EST


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 01:59:21 PM EST
This is a serious blog, "Jerome a Paris". Poo poo pe doo indeed.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 03:31:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"I'll get you!"

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 02:05:38 PM EST
This is a serious blog, "In Wales". And your point is?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 03:32:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Party time for the worms!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 03:58:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is good but how much sludge comes without heavy metals, hormones, and antibiotics?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 03:34:20 PM EST
That will depend upon human eating habits, farm practices and overall environmental pollution, I guess. It would be interesting to see if the worms break anything down (maybe hormones?).

Using the worms as salmon food seems the most problematic suggestion. Salmon aquaculture is bad for a variety of reasons besides the feed the salmon require. For instance, the spread of diseases to wild salmon.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 04:02:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Currently farming, eating, health, and industrial practices and habits are still :(  But I agree about (not) using worms for fish farming.

nanne, please take a worm's-eye view of this.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 04:13:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I'm not so sure if that kind of information is out in the open...

Myself, I'm more interested in hormones or medicinal residues. My gut says that heavy metals has been mostly solved.

I did find:

Modern treatment plants strip hormone from sewage. (Extracting Estrogens). - Free Online Library

Reproductive hormones, both natural and the synthetic ones in contraceptive drugs, sometimes survive sewage treatment and turn up in the environment where they can affect wildlife. Modern sewage-treatment facilities, about half of those used in Europe, break down these sex hormones more effectively than older plants do.
by Nomad on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 05:55:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"My gut says that heavy metals has been mostly solved."

Not true in the USA. Search "superfund site map" or "map superfund site" sometime (EPA-NPL maps by state, making total distribution difficult to comprehend) and pray the EU Commission doesn't follow the Fed lead but has much, much more stringent control over toxicity levels, "transparency," and clean-up schedule.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on U.S. EPA to reveal the confidential locations of dozens of coal ash impoundment sites considered dangerous.

Speaking with reporters this morning, Boxer said EPA has determined that at least 44 of the hundreds of coal ash piles identified across the country pose a "high hazard," meaning they could threaten human life if they fail -- like an impoundment that collapsed at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility late last year. ...But Boxer said EPA told her the agency could not reveal the location of these 44 sites, due to concerns from the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers about national security, a decision Boxer finds unsettling.

Pathetic.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 07:27:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I genuinely thought this was properly done in reasonably developed countries...

I'd much rather want to put my concerns on developing countries...

by Nomad on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 06:23:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I recall a story in Science News from ca. 2003-2004 by a reporter who described a study that showed antibiotic resistant bacteria throughout the water sheds of the plains, from Oklahoma to Nebraska.  The major source of exposure of naturally occurring bacteria to antibiotics was from feed lot operations.  Having since driven by such operations on Interstate 5 west of Bakersfield, CA and Interstate 40 west of Amarillo, Tx, it is hard to imagine how the cattle could live without antibiotics.  The stench is amazing.  I never saw a follow up and I suspect that the author soon learned the perils of stepping on the toes of the powerful.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 12:13:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Antibiotics are systematically distributed in animal feed to promote growth, quite apart from those used occasionally (or often) against infection. This has been going on for half a century.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 01:39:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Banned in the EU since 2006.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 01:44:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Antibiotics are systematically distributed in animal feed...
Good article.

In the USA the popular view, and one spread through medical organizations, is that antibiotic resistance is spread through over prescription by doctors.  Yet the portion of total antibiotic release into the environment must be >99% for animal husbandry.  This massive industrial market for antibiotics may have a relatively low margin for drug companies, but it would certainly cover all of the overhead costs for the companies concerned and would make sales for human consumption pure profit.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 08:59:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's true, but there are antibiotics that are only given to humans (at least there are in Europe), and bacteria still build resistance to those through over-prescription. And I have on good authority that over-prescription is a serious problem in the US (and, for that matter, in many parts of Europe).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 03:11:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's a compounded problem. Prescribed antibiotics end up polluting the environment via sewage just as animal feed (and treatment) antibiotics do via run-off and slurry-spreading on land.

The problem of the development of resistant strains of pathogens is exacerbated by overuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals, and recent history concerning industrial chicken and pork operations suggests the two may cross over in a potentially dangerous fashion.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 03:47:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I once served as the Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Aquatic Biology Lab at Oklahoma State University.  The Lab had developed a system of ponds in which to treat oil refinery effluent.  I believe they had five sequential ponds with raw effluent entering the first and reasonably safe water exiting the fifth.  We would visit a refinery and retrieve a series of samples from each pond, preserve them in formaldehyde and, during the summer, I would be employed full time measuring midge fly larvae under a binocular microscope and cataloging the results by millimeter.

Fish could easily survive 48 hours in water from the last pond.  This was expressed as a Tolerance Limit Median for 48 hours, or TLM48=1, expressed on a log scale from 0 to 1.  Unfortunately, even though they survived, the test animals, the minnow Pomapholes promelis, per the test protocol, had to be destroyed after use.  Thus I described my job as consisting of killing fish.  When I inherited a 10 gallon aquarium with a small rock bass from one of the doctoral candidates, I could bring an occasional test animal home for the aquarium.  The bass would line it up, head to head and swallow it whole, usually eliciting a comment such as Whoah! from anyone who had not previously observed this event.  So I have been a paid killer since the age of 19.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 05:33:26 PM EST
My GLOD! What memory.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 07:04:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 09:51:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Poor dr Evil. Fortunately, the saga about the sharks continued in another movie:



Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 05:04:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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