In many states, sewer waste is processed into a solid sludge, which is then sprayed and spread throughout public forests, and we’ve identified a new type of fungus that grows in this incredibly toxic environment. [panning shot of forest, and shot of Richard Honour]
For the past 5 years, I’ve been traveling through the national forests in Washington state gathering samples of sewage sludge,[shot of forest] because I’ve been tracking this harmful practice. I’ve already identified in our pristine forests over 100 types of antibiotics, steroids, heavy metals, and flame retardant chemicals that have come from this sludge. They are present at levels 100x times the accepted EPA standards. [shot of chemical analysis list]
Normally, nothing grows in this toxic soup [shot of soup], but last year I discovered a new fungus that surprisingly thrives in this toxic environment. We’ve tried to identify it, and so far we believe that this species is ____ [screenshot of email discussion with species names in it]
My hypothesis is that this fungus might be degrading or processing these harmful chemicals, which would otherwise kill everything [shot of fungus growing in the sludge]. This is because fungus often adapts to its environment. If this is true, then we should be able to identify the chemical byproducts found in these fungi.[shots of fungus growing in the lab]
I am collaborating with several researchers at Dakota State University and the Sierra Club, as well as one of the national EPA-regulated laboratories which has agreed to help. [shot of collaborators] In addition, my 20 year background in the biotech industry and as microbiology faculty has led me to think about this project through a biochemistry lens. [shot of Richard Honour]
With the support of over 60 backers, we’ve already successfully cultured this new fungus in the lab. [screenshots of past experiment projects] Now we want to run trials that would identify which toxic chemicals (flame retardants) are being broken down. [shot of fungus]
This project could be one piece of evidence towards stopping this harmful industry practice of sewage disposal in our natural forests, that impacts our ecosystems, healthcare, and economy. [shot of Richard Honour, trucks spraying]
[shot of fungus] With this project, we have the potential to show how this practice hurts our ecosystems, but also with nature’s help, we can discover a novel chemical pathway for breaking down these toxic molecules.