The Lands Council has begun an innovative mycology project which is investigating the ability of several species of fungi to break down persistent polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This project aims to prevent PCBs from entering our urban waterways and making their way into the food and water supply.
Of the toxic pollutants in the Spokane River, PCBs are of highest concern. PCBs are man-made, toxic chemicals which were banned in the U.S. in 1979. Despite the ban, these chemicals persist in the U.S. as legacy pollutants and as by-products of many industrial processes. Currently, 15 segments of the river exceed human health water quality criteria for PCBs in edible fish tissue. PCB exposure correlates with significant toxic effects on the nervous, reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems. PCB’s are also a probable carcinogen. Of particular concern is the fact that when PCBs enter waterways via urban runoff or industrial discharge, they can move through aquatic food chains and become increasingly toxic.
In 2006, dischargers and conservation groups created the Spokane River Regional Toxics Taskforce. This Taskforce includes The Lands Council, and the City of Spokane. The Task force has a goal to implement a plan to reduce the presence of PCBs in the river by 95%. The Lands Council proposes a project that will use fungi to break down PCBs and other chemicals before they enter the river. The fungi are called white rot fungi (WRF). Because PCBs are chemically similar to the wood WRF naturally eat, WRF can break down these chemicals without experiencing toxic effects.
White rot fungi have been shown to break down PCBs under laboratory conditions, and The Lands Council seeks to test this utility on a much larger scale in the field in order to identify the potential for WRF to be used to prevent PCBs from entering the Spokane River. If successful, this novel method could have broad implications for cost‐effective cleanup at contaminated sites.