How to Find Fungi in All That Oil And Dirt…



Dear Gus,

I recently inherited a black site (*) from my Great Uncle Firestone. Ages ago, the area used to be an industrial plant, but the warehouses and factories have long since been demolished. Now, all that’s left are some ruined fields that not even the city wants. The city claims that “they are too much of a hazard and too expensive to repair for public use.” I’ve been out there a few times and can’t help but imagine it as a shared public garden. Tell me the truth: is the dream of an edible future doable in this lifetime on my land? Or are all my hopes merely a psilocybin dream?

In the dark,

Hyde O-Carbon


Dear Mr. O-Carbon,

Given all the brown, grey, and black(*) sites that people from our towns and cityscapes own nowadays, it is really is no wonder that you’re balking at inheriting yet another potentially hazardous area. Of the 3,285 yearly pounds of hazardous waste that are produced in the United States (1), the portion that your city is responsible for disposing of is significant. That being said, with a bit of work and a bit of spore seeding, the right combination of mycelium can gradually restore your land to its preindustrial state of health and fertility. Please consider the following options for Mechanical remediation or bioremediation.

Mechanical remediation: In mechanical remediation, the contaminated land is physically removed; it is moved from one location to another for disposal.

  •      Land dredging: Land dredging is a strange yet consistent choice of mechanical remediation and is chosen by most governments and industries. The waste is networked out to other locations for what is intended to be The Ultimate Pollution Sink—a historical concept fully explored by Joel A. Tarr (2).  The expense is variable, depending on the amount of land to be removed and the toxicity of the soil. It is difficult to estimate the long-term cost, as ruined areas are divided among three options: transport, chemical treatment, or incineration. This option is very disruptive to the land, as it focuses on removal and disposal instead of treatment.
  •      Basic bioremediation: Basic bioremediation is a vast improvement over mechanical remediation. Various organisms are used to clean a site that has been contaminated by pollutants. This is a long-term and costly approach where the soil is treated and retreated over the course of several years until it is in an acceptable state. As of 2000, heavily hydrocarbon saturated sites averaged about $300 per cubic yard per year (3).
  •      Enhanced bacterial remediation: Enhanced bacterial remediation uses a combination of features: surfactants to break down the dense hydrocarbons and microbes to finish the cleaning process. Or, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it, remedial technology uses “biological processes to destroy or transform contaminants. Bioremediation may be intrinsic (natural) or enhanced (engineered) by adding nutrients, electron donors or acceptors, or microbes to soil or groundwater” (4). This too is a long-term solution and is often more completely successful than basic bioremediation. Its average cost is equivalent to basic bioremediation.
  •      Mycoremediation: This requires the use of mycelial-inoculated soil to remove hydrocarbons and heavy metals from contaminated/hazardous soil. The Department of Transportation (5) and Peter Becker (6) provided evidence that demonstrates that remediation equivalent to years of Bioremediation or bacterial remediation, happens over a period of several months, and repeated treatment becomes unnecessary as the mycelium grow and age. The average cost is about $50 per cubic yard.

Overall, the costs and benefits of mushrooms should be unsurprising, as eons of fungal growth and development have allowed our dear compatriots to adapt and remediate the environment long before animals came onto the scene. So fear not Mr. O-Carbon, your land but awaits the fungus among us.


Sincerely Gus


*Contributed by Adam Pierce

(*) Black, Brown and Grey site refer to the degree a site is polluted.  Black being dangerously hazardous to human health, brown being less so but with possible sewer contaminants, and grey being Effected by minor pollutants like storm water runoff.

(1) Recycling. (2014, January 1). Retrieved from

(2) Joel, T. (1996). The search for the ultimate sink: Urban pollution in historical perspective (1st ed., Vol. 1). Akron: University of Akron Press.

(3) Remediation technology cost compendium – Year 2000, 77-77. (2000). 16 of 77. Retrieved from

(4) Remediation technology cost compendium – Year 2000, 77-77. (2000). 18-20 of 77. Retrieved from

(5) Thomas, S., Becker, P., Pinza, M., & Word, J. (1998). Mycoremediation of aged hydrocarbon contaminants in soil. Department of Transportation, WARD, 464(1), 76-76. Retrieved from

(6) Becker, P., Drum, A., Pinza, M., Thomas, S., & Word, J. (1999). Bioremediation: Mycofiltration mesocosm study for the cleanup of oil-contaminated soil. Laboratory Directed Research And Development Annual Report, PNNL-12123-UC 400, 13-15 of 367. Retrieved September 27, 2014.

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