The Marshall Fire that ravaged Colorado in December 2021 has earned its place in history as the most destructive fire in Colorado to date. And while the immediate threat of the fire may have passed, we’re now faced with another public health concern – lingering toxins released into the environment from the fire.
So how exactly do we address this dangerous influx of environmental toxins? The answer may involve mushrooms and plants with toxin-transforming capabilities.
Today we’re going to explore exactly why fires release so many toxins, and just how mushrooms and plants might be the key to healing our environment. Let’s dive in.
What Toxins Do Fires Release?
As fires spread through urban developments, devouring homes, businesses, and other man-made structures, a cocktail of countless chemicals are incinerated and released into the air through smoke and ash particles. These toxic smoke and ash particles float through the air, settle on surfaces, and deposit themselves in our soil, water, crops, and homes.
Some of these dangerous chemicals that can be released into the air and environment post-fire include:1
- Ethylene glycol
- Heavy metals
- Methylene chloride
- Petroleum hydrocarbons
Elevated or prolonged exposure to these harmful toxins can have some scary effects on your health.
Health Risks After a Fire
Coming into contact with the toxins released into the environment after a fire can impact your health in a number of ways. Symptoms can range from mildly irritating to life-threatening, including:2,3
- Irritation of the eyes, nose, and/or throat
- Headaches and dizziness
- Loss of coordination
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Worsening of asthma symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Damage to the liver and/or kidneys
- Damage to the central nervous system
With such potentially serious health consequences, it’s clear that the toxins released after a fire pose a serious threat to public health in areas scorched by these devastating fires. So what can we do to restore our communities and protect ourselves from these nasty toxins lurking in the environment?
The answer might lay in a method known as bioremediation.
What Is Bioremediation?
Bioremediation is a process that uses strategically placed living organisms – such as bacteria, fungi, or plants – to biologically break down pollutants and convert them into less toxic substances.4 Bioremediation is not a new technique, but as our knowledge of microbes and plants grows, our ability to harness the power of bioremediation is also growing substantially.
And when it comes to cleaning up toxic pollutants after a fire, one of the most promising forms of bioremediation is the use of mushrooms.
Mushrooms for Post-Fire Remediation
The use of mushrooms in bioremediation is more specifically known as mycoremediation. Mushrooms are particularly potent bioremediators thanks to their ability to secrete powerful enzymes. These enzymes break down whatever surface they’re growing on and convert it into nutrients they can use to grow.
You see the mycelium, or what are essentially the “roots” of the mushrooms, break down the hydrocarbon bonds in toxic compounds and convert them into smaller molecules that are less toxic. They essentially turn hydrocarbons into nutrients or carbohydrates that the fungi use for growth.5 This makes mushrooms ideal for the remediation and clean-up of a wide variety of chemicals such as flame retardants, pesticides, plastics, and other synthetic compounds.
But what about heavy metals? Can mushrooms help mitigate the influx of heavy metals deposited into the environment after a fire?
Can Mushrooms Absorb Heavy Metals?
The answer is yes – but only if the mushroom is allowed to fully form and develop fruiting bodies. Fruiting bodies include the mushroom’s stem, cap, and spores (the underside of the cap). If a mushroom is allowed to fully mature and develop fruiting bodies, it will absorb heavy metals and store them within the fruiting bodies where they can then be disposed of.6
So when it comes to bioremediation and cleaning up chemicals and heavy metals after a fire, what are the best mushrooms to use?
What Are the Best Mushrooms to Use for Post-Fire Bioremediation?
While there are a variety of mushroom species that can potentially be used in bioremediation, one of the most promising types of mushrooms being utilized in mycoremediation are Oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are ideal for a few reasons:7
- They’re easy to grow and develop quickly
- Compared to other “pickier” mushroom species, you can more easily get them to produce fruiting bodies
- They’re able to remediate the widest variety of toxicants
Oyster mushrooms’ impressive toxin-transforming capabilities can be even further amplified when used in conjunction with other bioremediation plants like sunflowers, alfalfa, alder trees, and hemp.
With such incredible toxin-remediating capabilities, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help incorporate these magnificent mushrooms into bioremediation efforts in your area.
How Can I Contribute to Bioremediation in My Area?
If you live in or around the areas that have been affected by the recent fires, the influx of toxins into our environment is a serious concern. Community-wide bioremediation efforts will require a big-picture approach involving coordination between governing agencies. But the good news is that each and every one of us can do our part.
Here’s what you can do:
- Protect yourself: Before you do anything else, take measures to safeguard your health and protect yourself from toxins. Toxins may have accumulated inside places you spend significant time, so it’s worth taking extra steps to protect your well-being. Make sure to head over and read my article How to Protect Yourself From Smoke, Toxins, and VOCs After a Fire.
- Clean up where you can: While overall bioremediation efforts must be handled at a higher level, we can all do our part to help clean up our communities. You can even invest in your own mycoremediation kits or build your own to help rebalance your own yard and surrounding areas. You can visit Fungaia Farm to learn more.
- Get involved: Get involved in community clean-up efforts and offer to lend a hand to those in need.
We’re all in this together, and with some strategic effort we can help our environment and our community bounce back and rebuild even stronger than before.
Interested in Learning More About Mushrooms for Bioremediation?
Tap into the power of mother nature by using fungi, plants, and microorganisms to heal our environment and mitigate toxins. This is a powerful and growing field that I hope we can utilize in the restoration of my beloved home state of Colorado after these devastating fires.
If you want to learn more about these mighty mushrooms and how they’re being used to clean up our environment, I encourage you to head over and check out Fungaia Farm. Fungaia Farm is at the cutting edge of mycoremediation and has a wealth of knowledge available on their website as well as ways to get started with your own mushroom kits. You can visit their website and learn more about their efforts by clicking right here.
While my heart is hurting because of all the loss and pain these fires have caused, I’m also hopeful and excited to see what the future holds for this community. I know that we have the power and resilience to heal from this and create a future brighter than we could have imagined. And I’m dedicated to doing my part to help in any way I can.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about the use of mushrooms for bioremediation and environmental clean up? Do you know of additional ways to get involved in the clean up of our environment here in Colorado? Leave any questions, thoughts, or links in the comments below!
- Bioremediation – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
- Mycotechnologies — Fungaia Farm
- Mushroom as a product and their role in mycoremediation | AMB Express | Full Text (springeropen.com)
- Mycotechnologies — Fungaia Farm
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.