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Fwd: Starhawk: Bioremediating New Orleans: Round Two Begins

  • Subject: [cg] Fwd: Starhawk: Bioremediating New Orleans: Round Two Begins
  • From: Jennifer L Barricklow barricklow@juno.com
  • Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 08:04:22 -0500

I'm posting this to the list because I know a number of folks here are
interested in bioremediation; the whole grass roots, community organizing
aspect is pretty neat to read about, too. Enjoy!

Jennifer Barricklow
Lexington KY

Bioremediating New Orleans:  Round Two Begins

By Starhawk
Flying into New Orleans reading Jared Diamonds Collapse, a whole history
of societies throughout history that have collapsed, mostly through
destroying their environment, deforestation, soil erosion, and related
mistakes.  I cant help thinking that historians of the future will look
back on New Orleans destruction in last summers hurricanes with the
same kind of incredulity as we ponder the Easter Islanders cutting of
their last trees.  How could they not have seen what they were doing?
they might ask.  They knew that hurricanes would come, that the levees
were inadequate.  That historian might go on to mark the summer of the
hurricanes as the watershed moment for the American Empire, the point
where its collapse became evident, if not in the lack of preparations for
the disaster, then in the utter failure of every major institution to
respond adequately. It wasnt the beginning of the end, but it was the
point where the end became visible.

Or not.  They might come to a different conclusions. if they were here
with me in the Common Ground office called the House of Excellence,
sitting in on our Bioremediation team meeting, watching Emilys eyes
light up with excitement as she says, Were really doing itwere really
going to clean the whole thing up!   In the front room is a bank of
computers with open, free internet access open to the community.  In the
side rooms are offices, a small kitchen.  A young man with wild, dark
hair spends half an hour reading one of the Narnia books to a three young
girls here for daycare.  Jen, Randy, Juniper and I are all deep in books
on phytoremediation and beneficial fungi and compost teas and doing
computer searches as we pull together the material for tomorrows public
forum on the toxic residues here in New Orleans and our plan for the
weekends bioremediation training.  Working with these young womenits
like having a team of Hermione Graingers at our disposal, young,
incredibly smart, beautiful, and willing to dive into books and internet
sites and come up with answers to almost any question, if answers exist  
Juniper, who middle aged, beautiful and incredibly smart, and in fact in
her day job is a respected environmental engineer, shows us her mapshe
has taken the EPA testing data, 75,000 pieces of information posted on
their website in obscure and intimidating detail, put it together with
her own data and plotted it on a map that shows the sites tested and the
toxins found for all of New Orleans.

Now that we know where the hot spots are, (or at least, the ones theyve
tested) and what the problems are, we can decide what will be the most
effective ways to clean them up, using beneficial bacteria, or mushrooms,
or plants.  It sounds simple, but there are many complexities.
Petrochemicals can be broken down by bacteria and fungi, but heavy metals
are elements, and cant be broken down.  Some plants and mushrooms will
extract them from the soil, but some of them need different conditions to
work well. Lead, for example, is most soluble when the soil is acidic,
and needs special chelating agents to be taken up in quantities. 
Arsenic, one of the most common pollutants, is most soluble when the soil
is alkaline.  We can find references to plants that will take it  up, but
where the hell do we get seeds for Alpine Pennycress or spores of Ladder
Brakefern?  The methods we would use to uptake metals in plants are
exactly contradictory to those we might use to bind them into the soil in
a form that will be less harmful to other life forms.  Which do we do?

Its exciting. Its also uncharted territory. Lots of people have worked
on bioremediation, in the lab, on highly toxic sites, in well funded
cleanup efforts.  We dont know of anyone who has tried it on a
low-budget, mass movement backyard scale.


Two days of intense research, followed by the forum and two days of
training.  The forum went well, with about a hundred people crowded into
the gutted front room of the church that is hosting Common Grounds
Community Center on the east side of town.  We had the usual technical
problemsJunipers great maps that showed so clearly on the computer
didnt show up at all when projected onscreen, but otherwise lots of good
information and enthusiasm.

Because of the hurricane, the EPA has now tested New Orleans for a whole
host of contaminants. The EPA has not tested the back yards of Brooklyn
or Chicago or Detroitbut chances are if they did they would find many of
the same contaminants as in New Orleans. Katrina didnt create the
arsenic or the diesel fuels, she just spread them around.   Some came
from industrial spills and refineries, of course.  But the lead and the
arsenic, probably the most wide-spread contaminants, were already in the
soil. Louisiana has a generally high background level of arsenic in its
soils, but much of what is here now probably comes from using treated
lumber, herbicides, pesticides and lawn chemicals.  One piece of data
seems to highlight this issue:  the Sun Done garden, an organic garden
for fifteen years, tests in the safe zone for all the major contaminants,
including arsenic.  Other backyards, just a few blocks away, test high. 
Thinking about how to bioremediate these toxins brings us back around to
think about how insane it is to be putting them onto the ground in the
first place.  On the larger scale, bioremediation means learning to grow
food organically and live sustainably I the first place.

Saturday we began our training at the Sun Done Community Garden, one of
sixty coordinated by a nonprofit called Parkway Partners.  Its a big
piece of ground, maybe half an acre, tucked between the back yards of
houses in a residential area that flooded heavily and is still mostly
deserted.  When I was here in November, the garden was a shambles, the
greenhouse in pieces on the ground, only one or two beds in shape to
plant.  Now, the Common Ground crew, spurred by Lisa and Emily, have done
a miraculous work of transformation.  The raised beds and reconfigured
and are growing greens and vegetables that weve been eating at the
Community Center.  The greenhouse has been re-erected, covered with new
plastic, and fittled with gutters and rain catchment that have filled
half a dozen barrels of water from last nights downpour.  Theres a
small compost toilet in the back and room for seating and training inside
the greenhouse.

We were expecting somewhere between ten and thirty people, and made
handouts for fifty, thinking wed have extras.  But people begin swarming
in, and soon the greenhouse is filled and overflowing. 

We spend the day going over the toxins that have been found in New
Orleans soil, and the three basic methods of bioremediating themusing
microorganisms, using fungi and mushrooms, and using plants.  We divide
people into different groups for hands-on practice, making compost,
starting worm bins (worm castings are the major source for the
microorganisms we culture), starting seeds and taking cuttings, and
inoculating strata with mushroom spawn.

And then we spent Sunday teaching about fungi and using plants to
accumulate heavy metals. Part of our project will be to put up a website
with all our data and information, and to do some documented trials to
learn much, much more about how all this might work.  Theres lots more
to tell, but Im going to send this first report out now, while I have
internet access.  More later, Starhawk

Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of The Earth Path, Webs of
Power: Notes from the Global Uprisin, The Fifth SacredThing and other
books on feminism, politics and earth-based spirituality.  She teaches
Earth Activist Trainings that combine permaculture design and activist
skills, www.earthactivisttraining.org
<http://www.earthactivisttraining.org/> and works with the RANT trainers
collective, www.rantcollective.net <http://www.rantcollective.net/>  that
offers training and support for mobilizations around global justice and
peace issues.

Donations to support the work can be made at
www.rantcollective.net <http://www.rantcollective.net/> 

Tax deductible donations can also be sent to:
1405 Hillmount St. 
Austin, Texas 

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