Clams, Mussels May Offer Cheaper Way to Clean Up Streams

Clams, Mussels May Offer Cheaper Way to Clean Up Streams

Bivalves can remove up to 80% of chemicals from two liters of water every day

Ross Brooks
  • 18 august 2014

As poisonous chemicals continue to pour into our water supply, some scientists have put forward the idea of using clams and mussels as a way to clean up the country’s streams, rivers, and lakes. Also known as bivalves, the organisms can remove “contaminants of emerging concern” (CECs) in a matter of days. Some were shown to remove as much as 80 percent of some chemicals within 72 hours.

Wastewater, agricultural runoff, and animal wastes are all considered CECs, and while not much is known about their long-term effects, it’s fairly certain that their impact is unlikely to be a positive one. Not only would using clams and mussels as a filtration system help humans, it would help them. With 70 percent of native US freshwater mussels at risk from extinction, they could become another casualty in man’s quest for never-ending advancement.


Richard Luthy, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and coauthor of the paper published in Environmental Science and Technology, explains that, “Each native mussel filters about two liters of water a day, so it doesn’t take a whole lot to improve water quality.” As for their protection, the study’s lead author, Niveen Ismail, outlines a plan: “We are considering using a raft carrying caged native bivalves which will allow us to monitor the health of the bivalves and also protect them from predators.”

The irony of the study is that clams and mussels have been cleaning our waterways for as long as they have existed, but it’s only now that we realize the value they hold. Once upon a time they were able to handle by-products of human existence, but excessive production and consumption have slowly overwhelmed them to the point where they might even go extinct. If that were to happen, it’s easy to imagine that the water issues we face can only get exponentially worse.

[h/t] Futurity

Images by Conifer, USFWS




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