... to South America that is. For the past several weeks I have been down in Ecuador helping set up a spawn lab for the Amazon Mycorenewal Project (AMP). This non-profit has set down roots in Lago Agrio, Ecuador in order to use mushrooms to bioremediate the large amount of petroleum polution that exists in this part of the country. Although there is a growing body of research showing that mushrooms can break down petroleum there are still very few areas where these principles are being tested in the field, and this is one of them. Up to this point AMP has been an entirely volunteer run organization but with its new partnership with the Instituto Superior Tecnologico Crecermas it has access to university resources that will allow it to become a center for mushroom education, cultivation, and mycormediation research in the area.
Though there is much hope in what AMP is doing in Ecuador it is also easy to feel dismayed with the sheer magnitude of the problem. In 1992 after 28 years of oil extraction Texaco, now Chevron, left Ecuador leaving behind approximately 1000 open unlined oil pits. Every time it rains, which is a lot in the Amazon, these pits overflow and spill crude petroleum into the surrounding rivers and tributaries that course through seven indigenous Ecuadorian Communities and ultimately into Brazil. While standing on floating logs in one such pit our guide on this toxic tour, Donald Moncayo, asked me if I had ever experienced crude petroleum before. I realized that, until that moment, I had not. Everything I was used to in the states was some sort of refined petroleum product, not the thick noxious fluid that I was trying desperately not to come in contact with. As i stood on these floating logs hoping that I wouldn't fall into the approximately 2 meters of crude petroleum Donald told me of the animals that fall in and die in these pits, how some communities have no choice but to bathe, drink, and wash there clothes in petroleum contaminated water, and how cancer rates in this part of Ecuador have increased dramatically in recent times. By the end of the day I was nauseous and had an intense migraine from the fumes, just a small taste of what life is like for the more than 30,000 people that are impacted by this so called "Rainforest Chernobyl".
Despite the oil damage in Ecuador being what some consider to be the worst oil disaster in history, chevron continues to evade paying the 9.5 billion dollar lawsuit Ecuadorian communities have placed on them. Hopefully though the communities in Ecuador will win their fight and the country will have the means to begin cleaning up this disaster. However until that time AMP will continue to research methods of mycoremediation in Ecuador and provide resources for communities to undertake small scale local remediation. If you are ever thinking of traveling to South America and want to see the darker side of where our gas comes from I recommend taking a trip to Lago Agrio, better yet spend some time volunteering with AMP. With increased global awareness and concern Chevron will no longer be able to delay compliance with the Ecuadorian lawsuit and we can start a large scale remediation of this disaster, perhaps using some of the techniques currently being developed by AMP.
For more information on the ongoing battle between Ecuadorian communities and Chevron check out these sites:
To learn more about their current work on post-fire bioremediation on the West Coast, check out CoRenewal