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Earthworms Found to Contain Chemicals from Households and Animal Manure

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by Gerry Miller, Feb 24, 2008.

  1. Gerry Miller

    Gerry Miller LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 504

    Released: 2/20/2008 12:00:00 PM

    Contact Information:
    U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
    Office of Communication
    119 National Center
    Reston, VA 20192 Edward T. Furlong
    Phone: 303-236-3941

    Jennifer LaVista
    Phone: 703-648-4432


    Earthworms studied in agricultural fields have been found to contain organic chemicals from household products and manure, indicating that such substances are entering the food chain.

    Manure and biosolids, the solid byproduct of wastewater treatment, were applied to the fields as fertilizer. Earthworms continuously ingest soils for nourishment and can accumulate the chemicals present in the soil.

    The chemicals investigated are considered indicators of human and animal waste sources and include a range of active ingredients in common household products such as detergents, antibacterial soaps, fragrances, and pharmaceuticals. Some of the detected chemicals are naturally occurring such as plant and fecal sterols and fragrances. All of these chemicals tend to be concentrated in the municipal waste distribution and disposal process and are referred to as anthropogenic waste indicators (AWI).

    U.S. Geological Survey Scientists and their colleague from Colorado State University at Pueblo published their new findings today in Environmental Science and Technology. The results demonstrate that organic chemicals introduced to the environment via land application of biosolids and manure are transferred to earthworms and enter the food chain.

    Scientist collected earthworms from a soybean field fertilized with biosolids. The earthworms were analyzed for 77 different chemicals; 20 chemicals were detected in the earthworms.
    Scientists found 28 AWIs in biosolids being applied at a soybean field for the first time and 20 AWIs in earthworms from the same field. Similar results were found for the field where swine manure was applied. Several compounds were detected in earthworms collected both from the biosolids- and manure-applied fields, including phenol (disinfectant), tributylphosphate (antifoaming agent and flame retardant), benzophenone (fixative), trimethoprim (antibiotic), and the synthetic fragrances galaxolide, and tonalide. Detergent metabolites and the disinfectant triclosan were found in earthworms from the biosolids-applied field, but not the manure-applied field.

    Biosolids are made from the sludge generated by the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants. Biosolids are used as fertilizer by farmers, landscapers, and homeowners when it satisfies U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and local regulations for nutrient, metal, and pathogen content. About half of the 8 million dry tons of biosolids produced in the U. S. each year are applied to the land. Biosolids have been found to be rich in AWIs compared to levels in wastewater treatment plant effluent. In addition, the 1.3 million farms raising livestock in the U. S. generate an estimated 500 million tons of manure annually, much of which is also applied to fields as fertilizer for crops.

    This study is part of a long-term effort by the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program to determine the fate and effects of chemicals of emerging environmental concern in aquatic and terrestrial environments, and to provide water-resource managers with objective information that assists in the development of effective water management practices. It was funded in part by a Research Corporation Cottrell College Award and a Faculty Research Grant from Eastern Washington University. More information can be found by reading, "Biosolids, Animal Manure, and Earthworms: Is There a Connection?"


    DUSTYCEDAR LawnSite Fanatic
    from PA
    Messages: 5,134

    but did there castings contain any of the chemicals?
  3. treegal1

    treegal1 LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,911

    we have used our worms to do remediation at a super fund site the worms were left to do there thing for 1 year then collected and incinerated the lead and mercury was visible in the burn tray after incineration. the scary thing is the lead it never leaves the system. bio solids are the dark side of organics and should be looked at with a skeptic eye filled with concern
  4. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    Lesson learned. Do not use Milorganite in your vegetable garden. Is it safe to use grass clippings from a Milorganite fed lawn in the vegetable garden?

    It is like the heavy metals reporttedly in chicken manure. What are we feeding those birds?

    The results demonstrate that organic chemicals introduced to the environment via land application of biosolids and manure are transferred to earthworms and enter the food chain.
    They make the claim but don't explain how it happened. Cows don't use fragrance and such.
  5. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,334

    They might be including reclaimed water as a "biosolid" along with treated sewage??

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