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Published on March 1st, 2011 | by Tina Casey


Clams to the Rescue! Researchers to Study Oil Spill Cleanup Potential of Mollusks

March 1st, 2011 by  

researchers study the ability of rangia clams to filter oil from polluted waterA faculty-student research team at Southeastern Louisiana University is about to embark on a study of the power of Rangia clams to filter out oil from polluted water. The project builds on previous investigations into the use of Rangia clams to serve as markers for the amount of hydrocarbons in a body of water.  As a filter feeding organism, Rangia can also suck in and digest other pollutants such as bacteria or viruses. You probably wouldn’t want to make a snack out of an oil-filled clam but at least it would get the job done.

Small Project, Big Potential

The research project is very modest – it’s partly funded by a grant of $2,300 – and the clams aren’t much to write home about either. Rangia is a small clam that is not marketed commercially, though it is sometimes harvested for personal consumption. Its main claim to fame seems to be its ability to be mistaken for the high-value Cherrystone clam. However, it also has the ability to concentrate hydrocarbons in its flesh. If the scale of concentration can reach a certain point without killing the clam, it’s possible that Rangia could be seeded into hard-to-access areas in order to filter out oil and other contamination.

Clams and Green Remediation

The research team plans to study the clams within cages to preserve them from predators, so it would also be possible to harvest the clams and their hydrocarbons for appropriate disposal. If that can be accomplished with minimal use of fossil fuel-burning equipment, it would fit right in with the U.S. EPA’s Green Remediation program, which seeks to reduce the carbon foot print of cleanup projects. A similar green remediation project is already under way in Connecticut, where a researcher is studying the use of shellfish and seaweed to filter excess nutrients from Long Island Sound.

An Ounce of Prevention…

Of course a modest looking clam can’t possibly be tasked with “making things right” in the Gulf Coast communities that are still suffering the aftereffects of BP’s oil spill. The only long term solution is to do what the U.S. is doing right now: transition out of high risk fossil fuels, and adopt safer, healthier means of powering a 21st century nation.

Image: Giant clam by robstephaustralia on flickr.com. 
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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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