January 19, 2011

Russian Company Enlists Snails To Monitor Pollution

A Russian waterworks company is using giant African snails to become living sensors that can monitor air pollution coming from a sewage incinerator.

The company is using six snails in a ground-breaking manner to monitor pollution from an incinerator that burns sewage residue on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, the utilities company told AFP in a statement.

The Achatina fulica snails, which can grow to 8 inches in length and are widely common throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, were used because "they have lungs and breathe air like humans," the utility said.

Scientists have fitted the snails with heart monitors and motion sensors. The readings from the snails will be compared with a control group, waterworks spokeswoman Oksana Popova told AFP.

Living things are used frequently to monitor pollution, but one expert called the use of snails to monitor the controversial incinerator a publicity stunt.

"Burning sludge emits toxic dioxins," said Dmitry Artamonov, head of the Saint Petersburg office of the Greenpeace environmental group.

"I don't know if snails get cancer, but even if they do, it won't happen straight away, and we will not hear about it from Vodokanal," Artamonov said, referring to the utility company.

Vodokanal refused Greenpeace access to the site last year when activists wanted to take a water sample at the facility, which is one of the largest in the country.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia