Soil Pollution: the worm turns

Most boys grow out of their obsession with worms after school, but Dr Suneet Dabke became fascinated with vermiculture during his university days. Like Pradeep, he’s chosen to go his own way and set up a business called Concept Biotech to develop his bioremediation technology.

A happy annelid, indeed.

One big happy annelid, indeed.

We meet in Varodara, and head over to a farm on the outskirts of the city where he is working with a local farmer to set up a vermicomposting operation. Using toughened polythene bags a vessels, pre-composted waste is mixed with manure and covered with leaf material to keep a bit of heat in. It is winter after all. When the leaf litter is brushed aside you can see the worm casts. They look like vermicelli.

Worms at work inside this beds.

Worms at work inside these beds.

The final step is to sieve the compost to a fine grade

The final step is to sieve the compost to a fine grade

The idea is to keep the process simple and low cost. On a separate site, Suneet is channeling wastewater from kitchens over a cascade of vermicompost beds that also contain plants, creating a mini-ecosystem. The residual liquid, or worm leachate to those in the know, that exits from the final beds can be used as a soil improver. In a small way, it helps people take control of their wastewater, and generates a useful product in return. It can be set up easily, and repaired simply. No need for a trip to Maplin or a degree in electronics. A small process, easily implemented by anyone and straightforward to maintain.

Remediation site in Muthia village, before and after

Suneet and photographs of the remediation site in Muthia village, before and after

Right now, Suneet has been looking at how vermicompost and vermiculture can be used in site restoration. He’s completed a pilot in Gujarat, on the site of a former chromium dump where toxic sludge was removed. In the barren void that remained, boys went to play cricket on the contaminated land. The aim was to stabilise the ground, and restore it to the point that grass could grow and the level of heavy metal was reduced. His interest lies in the ability of worms to accumulate heavy metals in their bodies. Suneet’s work relies on two different methods- either relying on the worms to disperse the contaminant, or harvesting them and burning (sorry my little pink friends) to recapture the heavy metal.

 

You’ll notice I’ve been relieved of photographic duties here by Phil Le Gal!

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