Non-toxic Bioremediation and Climate Justice in the Gulf of Mexico and Beyond

Non-toxic Bioremediation and Climate Justice In the Gulf of Mexico and Beyond

Many months have passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster has caused unimaginable suffering to life here on earth, interrupting the flow and balance of the ocean and seashore for generations. Images of oil-covered pelicans, tar balls on popular beaches, economic loss, and stories of deep political corruption jostled and agitated the sleepy masses. Ordinary people, large non-profit organizations and grassroots groups around the world have taken action against the oil industry and the regulatory agencies that should have prevented this. But too quickly, people became overwhelmed by the scale of this disaster, moved on to other things, and lost the sense of urgency of creating a radically different world. Only a prolonged effort will be effective for cleaning up this mess, and only an integrative strategy will be able to confront the dominant power structures that are responsible.
The weak legislative response, BP’s minimalist, toxic “clean-up” and the continuation of “business as usual” exemplify the deep roots of what caused this disaster. BP spent $93.4 million on their ad campaign to improve their image that could have been spent on proven clean up methods. We need to take down the oil giants one at a time, let’s hit these guys while they’re down, and take one step closer to a sustainable future.

BP dumped at least 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit 9500 on to an already devastated biological community. According to Popular Science, “Dispersants have never been applied on this scale, leaving environmental scientists guessing about the consequences.” The EPA didn’t test them until after BP started using them. When the EPA tried to stop them from using them, BP used fancy political maneuvering in order to keep using them.
Already cleanup workers are falling prey to illnesses caused by this toxic brew of crude oil and dispersants. BP won’t reveal the list of ingredients, saying it is a “trade secret”, but one report states that it contains arsenic. Corexit was outlawed ten years ago in the United Kingdom because of its toxicity. In many parts of the Gulf, they chose not to clean-up oil where they had the capacity to, in order to hide the magnitude of the spill, and saying that the dispersant would take care of it.

Corexit works by sinking the oil and breaking it up in to smaller pieces. And in breaking it apart, the Gulf becomes exposed to some of the more toxic elements inside the oil. These chemicals slow the growth of the native microorganisms that more effectively remediate the oil. In addition, storms could easily pick it up and rain toxic chemicals all over the East Coast. So, while BP may benefit from the appearance of less oil on the surface, aquatic life 20 feet below are being assaulted by these toxic plumes, compounding an already horrific situation for wildlife.

Ocean Therapy Systems , which received a $20 million investment from actor Kevin Costner, offers another interesting solution. BP signed a letter of intent to deploy thirty-two centrifuge machines to help with the clean up in June. They could potentially get 64,000 barrels of oil out of the Gulf every day. It is important to note that this will certainly help BP make money by recovering some of the oil and it is only one part of what must be a more diverse strategy. It also makes me wonder: How much life will be lost to catastrophic climate change when the recovered oil is burned than if it was to stay in the water?

It is painfully obvious that the real clean up is still nowhere near the scale it needs to be on. A very significant amount of research and experimentation on non-toxic methods of breaking down oil has already been done, and there is an opportunity for more research and application of these methods. We need to mobilize quickly to employ non-toxic bioremediation methods, and get BP to foot the bill.
Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based NGO, has done a massive callout to collect hair and fur from all over the world to be made in to oil-absorbing boom. Despite the humungous number of hair donations they’ve received, and the experiments that have proven its effectiveness, BP refuses to use this method. Some were deployed anyway, but their warehouses are now full of hair and they’re trying to find things to do with all the booms they made. If they were actually deployed, what about using fungi to digest all the oily hair mats?
Ocean Arks is a company that makes floating islands of biological communities, designed to clean up oil and other wastes that can be found in water. It seems like a fantastic idea, I wonder if they have, or why they haven’t been used yet.
There is vast potential for ecological restoration by facilitating the growth of nature’s decomposers. The ecological role of fungi and bacteria is to break down organic matter and help it turn into food for someone else. When people facilitate the growth of plants, fungi or bacteria to help clean up toxic waste, it is called bioremediation.
The BP Crisis Management Team and the EPA contacted the famous mycologist Paul Stamets about cleaning up the spill using mycoremediation (the use of fungi for purposes of bioremediation). He then came up with a great proposal/call-out for action, which can be found at: He is currently working with the EPA to develop solutions.
One of the major obstacles that Stamets addresses is that we don’t yet know the effect of salt water on fungi used for mycoremediation. However, we could still use fungi to clean up the beaches. Hay has been shown to be very effective at absorbing oil. And what species happens to be very good at digesting both hay and oil? You guessed it: Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.). We need to experiment with more species, and run as many trials as we possibly can. Perhaps we should think outside of the oyster box?
Pleurotus strains have been studied more than any other genus of mushroom, perhaps its time to experiment with other, more salt-tolerant fungi.

Waste digesting microbes, or “Effective Microorganisms” as they are often called, have been proven to be effective in cleaning oceanic oil spills all over the world. There are lots of different products and a tremendous amount of research on this type of bioremediation. In fact, the Texas General Land Office has been using this method since 1991. My friend called their Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program Manager about two months after the spill began and he reported that BP had not even contacted them in regards to the clean up. Remember that Texas borders the Gulf of Mexico.

Native microorganisms are already cleaning up oil, and there are arguments for and against adding more. It is certainly important to be careful using this method so as not deprive the ocean of much-needed oxygen and nitrogen. A company called Amira EET is developing a product called Arch-Microbes, which actually produce oxygen and clean up oil. They have been giving out some of their products for free in Louisiana, and seeking to provide BP with a large supply.

The Fungus Underground, a super awesome mycorestoration group based in Madison, WI is currently sending fungal materials and people down to New Orleans to help with the bioremediation effort. Another group, called the Spill Fighter, is actively implementing bioremediation with microbes. They have volunteers around the US who are spreading the word about bioremediation and working with various groups to get as much oil cleaned up as possible. They seem to need a lot of help, and have a lot of open volunteer positions that can be done from far away. Check them out at:
The technology for non-toxic bioremediation is available, and we need to keep pushing BP and the EPA to use it. And the movement for further research and utilization of these methods needs be integrated in to the movement for climate justice or it will validate the oil industry’s claims of its “safety”.
For the people and the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico, there is only so much that can still be done. But we can use what we’ve learned from this disaster to be better prepared for the next one. This disaster was and can still be used an opportunity to wake people up to the true cost of oil dependence. Together we can break apart the stranglehold the fossil fuel industry has on our lives, build a powerful, global climate justice movement and give a major boost to the non-toxic bioremediation movement in the Gulf and beyond.

If you wanna do something in the Gulf, Spill Fighters sounds cool. If you’re interested in doing mycoremediation projects in the future let’s stay in touch! exists to create a network between people who want to work with fungi for a healthier future. I’m asking for permaculture experts, bioremediation experts, and campaign organizers and volunteer laborers to write a description of their interests (see the About This Site page), send them to and they will be posted on the radical mycology website.
Beyond Talk:
Who can design and lead experiments? Who can design and lead large-scale projects?
Who can gather supplies?
Who can go down to the Gulf?
Who can be a coordinator/organizer?
Who can fundraise?
Who can do research and consult experts?
Who can do outreach, spread the word, and gather support (online, table at events, work the media)?

Act Against Oil Calls for:
-An immediate ban on all offshore drilling
-A rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels
-No bailouts for the oil industry. All recovery costs must be paid for by BP, Halliburton, Transocean and other implicated companies.
-The federal government must remove any caps on liability for oil companies.
-BP provides full compensation for impacted communities and small businesses.
-BP provides full funding for long-term ecosystem restoration for impacted areas.
-Oil companies operating in the Gulf fully fund restoration of coastal ecosystems damaged by canals, pipelines, and other industry activities.
Take action at:
-BP gas stations and offices
-Halliburton and Transocean offices
-Federal buildings
-Offices of members of Congress
-State government officials in states affected by Obama’s offshore drilling proposal.
-Critical Mass bike rides
-Vigils to mourn the unspeakable loss brought by this spill -Get creative!

More Resources and articles:

Check out the RITES Project, (Return Intention Towards Ecological Sustainability). They work “with individuals, communities, businesses, and schools to foster harmonious relationships with the environment.” They’re doing some awesome mycoremediation research.

Some of the more awesome groups taking some of the more awesome actions against BP and for healthier future are:
Act Against Oil

The Fungus Underground, which does mycorestoration projects and workshops in Madison, WI, can be contacted through their google group, “fungus underground”.

The Center for Biological Diversity

Mobilization for Climate Justice

Rising Tide North America

Upcoming Conference: Oil to Soil: Bioremediation for oil spill clean up. Advanced Permaculture Design for ecosystem regeneration.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010 at 9:00 AM – Sunday, December 05, 2010 at 4:00 PM (ET)
Frederiksted, Virgin Islands (U.S.)

The University of Western Florida is growing mushrooms to clean up the spill.
Check them out at:!/pages/UWF-Mycology-Club/177940932165?ref=ts

An article about one woman based in Long Island who is working to use mushrooms to clean up the spill:

An article on why bioremediation isn’t being used in the Gulf:

Podcast and interview with Frank Aragona on mycoremediation in the gulf

Here’s a video by the Texas General Land Office about using microbes for bioremediation. Its a little outdated, and I suspect its been used by oil companies to continue their path of destruction, but its a good intro and interesting piece.

A little Huffington Post article: HYPERLINK “”

This is an awesome article about Non-toxic Methods of cleaning up the gulf. HYPERLINK “”

I highly recommend reading Mycelium Running By Paul Stamets

In case you haven’t cried over the spilled oil yet:


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