A company providing drinking water from a river to residents in Rzeszow, a town in south-eastern Poland, has begun using mussels to monitor pollutants in the water. Liane Wimhurst reports.
Mussels are serving the local population in Rzeszow, Poland, by detecting water contamination. This river provides the area's drinking water, but not before it's passed the mussel test. Mussels are highly sensitive to pollutants, which cause them to clam up, closing their shells. Armed with this knowledge, Rzeszow's waterworks is using them to register harmful chemicals. (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) MPWIK TECHNOLOGIST, MARIA TENDERA, SAYING: "Mussels work as bio-indicators, these are organisms which have a certain tolerance and a certain vulnerability to environmental factors. These are mostly chemical, such as: heavy metal compounds, petroleum-derived substances, pesticides used in farming as well as compounds of cyanide or phenol." The lab uses Swollen River Mussels, or Unio Tumidus. The most useful are those that have been in clean water. And once they're on the job, their environment has to be strictly maintained. This diagram shows the spike the moment the tank was opened to light, the same indicator would show pollution. (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) SENIOR CHEMIST IN THE CENTRAL LABORATORY OF MPWIK IN RZESZOW, EWA SOLECKA, SAYING "We need to provide the mussels with stress-free conditions, that's why they live in a special closed aquarium where light or sound can't reach them, where they can fully focus exclusively on their work. Bivalves are already known to act as tiny water filtration systems. Stanford University research in 2014 found they sieve water when on the hunt for a meal of bacteria or algae. The California floater mussel and Asian clam detox took just three days. By that point 80 percent of water contaminants were gone. So, with the mussels on their side, residents of Rzeszow can drink the local water with ease.