|Título/s:||Use of vermiculture technology for waste management and environmental remediation in Argentina|
|Autor/es:||Torri, Silvana Irene; Puelles, María Mabel|
|Institución:||Facultad de Agronomía. Universidad de Buenos Aires. UBA. Buenos Aires, AR |
INTI-Química. Buenos Aires, AR
|Palabras clave:||Vermicultura; Lombrices; Desechos orgánicos; Biodegradación; Remediación; Bioacumulación; Reciclaje; Fertilizantes; Descontaminación; Contaminación del suelo; Argentina|
| Ver+/- |
Int. J. Global Environmental Issues, Vol. 10, Nos. 3/4, 2010 239
Copyright © 2010 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Use of vermiculture technology for waste
management and environmental remediation
Silvana Irene Torri*
Natural Resources and Environment,
School of Agronomy,
University of Buenos Aires,
Av San Martín 4453,
Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires,
1417 DSE, Argentina
María Mabel Puelles
Análisis Inorgánico y Espectrometría de Rayos X,
National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI)-Chemistry,
Av. Gral Paz 5445,
San Martín, Buenos Aires,
B1650 WAB, Argentina
Abstract: Throughout the world, there have been increasing interests in the
recycling of wastes for sustainable development. This especially applies for
organic materials of municipal and agro-industrial origin. Recycling initiatives
in Argentina are still incipient. In the last years, the use of earthworms for
stabilising organic wastes has been evaluated. In this paper, the authors compile
the research results of vermicomposting of organic residues from different raw
materials and its use as a biofertiliser, to provide a general outlook of the
development of vermiculture technology in Argentina within the last decade.
Research results of bioaccumulation of some trace elements by worms in
artificially contaminated systems are also provided.
Keywords: earthworms; organic waste; biodegradation; bioaccumulation.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Torri, S.I. and
Puelles, M.M. (2010) ‘Use of vermiculture technology for waste management
and environmental remediation in Argentina’, Int. J. Global Environmental
Issues, Vol. 10, Nos. 3/4, pp.239–254.
Biographical notes: Silvana Irene Torri is a Professor of the Natural Resources
and Environment in the School of Agronomy, University of Buenos Aires,
Argentina. She also serves as Vice-President of the International Society
of Recycling Materials. Her research interests include issues related to
240 S.I. Torri and M.M. Puelles
dynamics of potentially toxic elements, land application of organic residues
(manures, biosolids) and bioremediation of contaminated soils, with exotic
and native species. She has published 15 papers in specialised journals,
wrote 10 book chapters and is regularly invited to review scientific articles in
María Mabel Puelles is a Researcher of the Laboratory of Metals and
Inorganic Analysis, Absorption and Emission Atomic Spectrometry and
X-ray Spectrometry, Chemical Centre, National Institute of Industrial
Technology (INTI), Argentina. Her research interests include issues related
to bioavailability and bioaccumulation of metal contaminants associated to
sediments in soil and aquatic systems, toxicity indicator organisms, plant
species, bioremediation techniques, contaminated water and soil recovery
treatment and inorganic analysis instrumental methods.
Large volumes of organic wastes are produced all over the world, creating a serious
disposal problem and a major source of environmental pollution. Argentina is the second
largest country of Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the 2001 census, the
Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA) is made up of a population of
approximately 12 million people. This makes the AMBA the third largest urban
agglomeration in Latin America, following Mexico City and Sao Paulo. The amounts of
organic materials from Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW), sewage sludge and wastes of
agro-industrial origins have increased exponentially in the last years. As in many other
countries, waste disposal from households and industries is becoming an increasing
About 1,800,000 metric tons of sewage sludge is annually produced in the City
of Buenos Aires (Torri and Lavado, 2008). Sludge products are aerobically stabilised
and presently discarded in land farming and, to a minor extent, as a soil amendment
on lawns or land filling. However, the unavailability and rising cost of land, together
with public concern over odour and possible groundwater contamination, makes
finding new sites difficult, expensive and impractical. On the other hand, the creation
of the CEAMSE (State Company for Ecological Coordination in the Metropolitan Area)
in 1978 put MSW management on a metropolitan scale with the implementation
of controlled waste disposal methodology where lands have been recovered for
recreational purposes. At present, the waste management system is undergoing
a transition towards a system of urban solid waste recovery and recycling. In this
sense, the city of Buenos Aires has made significant progress regarding its legal
framework. Law 1854/05, also known as the Zero Garbage Law, sets down a schedule
to reduce urban solid waste end disposal, and stipulates a total ban on burying
recyclable material by the year 2020. New laws and regulations have also been
promulgated over the last few years, compelling the industries to reduce and treat
Use of vermiculture technology for waste management 241
The recent intensification of agricultural production, agro industries or industries
generates increasing quantities of solid waste, which may constitute a problem of
potential contamination for the population if its management is not correctly
planned (Navarro and Font, 1993). Another important source of biodegradable wastes
is animal breeding. New livestock production systems based on intensification in large
farms produce huge amounts of manure, which has to be managed under appropriate
disposal practices to avoid negative impacts on the environment (Burton and Turner,
The use of municipal wastes, sewage sludge, compost and farmyard manures as
fertilisers on agricultural soils has been encouraged in many parts of the world
as a sustainable alternative to stockpiling and incineration (Lima et al., 2009). Land
application of organic wastes is generally considered the best option of management
because it offers the possibility of recycling plant nutrients, provides organic material to
the soil and improves the soil’s aggregate stability, porosity and water infiltration rate
(Weber et al., 2007). However, recycling initiatives in Argentina are still incipient.
Direct land application of untreated waste might result in nitrogen immobilisation,
phytotoxicity due to release of ammonia, low molecular weight organic acids or salts
(Cooperband, 2000; Torri and Lavado, 2009). Consequently, organic materials
should be treated appropriately before being land applied. The conventional and
most traditional method of composting consists of an accelerated bio-oxidation of the
organic matter as it passes through a thermophilic stage (45–65°C) where
microorganisms liberate heat, carbon dioxide and water (Domínguez et al., 1997).
However, in recent years, researchers have become progressively interested in using
another biological process for stabilising organic wastes, which does not include a
thermophilic stage, but involves the use of earthworms. Certain species of earthworms
can rapidly fragment organic material residuals into much finer particles by passing them
through a grinding gizzard, an organ that all Anellida possess (Ndegwa and Thompson,
2001). The earthworm species most commonly utilised for the breakdown of organic
wastes are Eisenia fetida (Savigny) and its related species Eisenia andrei (Bouché).
Worldwide, considerable work has been carried out on vermicomposting of various
organic materials such as animal dung, agricultural waste and food wastes (Singh and
Sharma, 2002). Similarly, industrial and distillery wastes have been vermicomposted and
turned into nutrient-rich manure (Suthar, 2007). In Argentina, Campitelli and Ceppi
(2008b) studied the chemical and physicochemical properties of humic acids
from different vermicomposting plants that used different raw materials, like mixtures of
sorghum and tomato, urban waste, chicken manure, soybean and bagasse. They
concluded that carbon content of humic substances was similar in all the organic
amendments studied, whereas carbon content of humic acids apparently increased
with vermicomposting time. These results suggest that long stabilisation processes
led to the mineralisation of easily degradable fractions and the appearance of larger
concentration of more recalcitrant molecules like humic acids. Although this technique
has been tried and tested in many countries with positive results, vermicomposting is still
a relatively new technology in Argentina, and has not yet been fully explored.
Nonetheless, numerous organic wastes have been studied as possible substrates, and the
vermicompost obtained was tested for plant growth.
242 S.I. Torri and M.M. Puelles
On the other hand, earthworms are relatively efficient accumulators of certain
essential and non-essential trace elements from soil and sediments, either through direct
dermal contact with chemicals in the soil solution or soil atmosphere and by ingestion of
bulk soil or specific soil fractions (Lanno et al., 2004). Van Hook (1974) claimed that
earthworms could serve as useful biological indicators of contamination because of the
fairly consistent relationships between the concentrations of certain contaminants
between earthworms and soils. Earthworms may also be used to reclaim contaminated
soils. Vermiremediation is especially relevant in acidic soils, because of the near-neutral
to alkaline pH of vermicompost and the suppression of labile aluminium (Mitchell and
Alter, 1993). There are no records of soil surface polluted areas in Argentina.
Nevertheless, some bioassays were performed to determine the uptake and
bioaccumulation of trace elements by some worms.
In this paper, the authors compile the research results of vermicomposting, of organic
residues and of bioaccumulation of some trace elements by worms in artificially
contaminated systems, to provide a general outlook of the development of vermiculture
technology in Argentina within the last decade.
2 Vermiculture technology for waste management
2.1 Type of waste
2.1.1 Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
The organic composition of MSW ranges between 40% and 60%, although this
composition may change according to the region considered. In general, rural households
generate more organic waste than urban households. The end product quality of
traditional composts and vermicomposts using MSW produced in the NW Patagonia
region was compared by Tognetti et al. (2005). The earthworm used was Eisenia fetida.
Two kinds of vermicompost were prepared: inoculated with earthworms after having
undergone a two-month maturity phase and a backyard vermicompost produced during
four months without a previous thermophilic phase. Tognetti et al. (2005) reported that
Electrical Conductivity (EC) of municipal compost and municipal vermicompost was
within the range considered acceptable for plant growth, being significantly lower for
vermicompost compared with traditional compost and backyard vermicompost. The three
composts had alkaline pH values, probably due to the high wood ash content of the
MSW. Total N and P were significantly higher in municipal vermicompost than
in municipal compost, whereas organic matter content did not significantly differ
between the three amendments. When compost and vermicomposts were applied to
degraded soil and sown with ryegrass, significantly higher ryegrass aerial biomass
was produced with vermicompost, which increased ryegrass yield by 15–17% compared
with the traditional compost and backyard vermicompost. These results may have been
due to enhanced soil microbial activity, population size and substrate degradation
capacity, indicating the importance of the processing technology employed (Gaur and
Use of vermiculture technology for waste management 243
2.1.2 Sewage sludge
In Buenos Aires City, sludge products are aerobically stabilised in two treatment plants
(North and South-western purifying plants) and are presently discarded in land farming,
and to a minor extent as a soil amendment on lawns or land filling. Composting in a large
scale is not yet performed mainly due to a lack of economic investment. The management
of sewage sludge through the action of earthworms has been suggested for depuration
plants (Masciandaro et al., 1997) as an option for resource recovery. The contents of Cd,
Cu and Pb in sewage sludge do not exceed ceiling concentrations for land application
recommended by Argentine regulation (S.A.D.S., 2001, Res.97/01) and the US EPA
(US EPA, 1993; Torri and Lavado, 2008). This option is actually being studied by the
The feeding of livestock in confinement is progressively increasing in Argentina.
This activity generates large volumes of organic waste that may create a serious
disposal problem and a major source of environmental pollution. Composting of animal
manures has been traditionally carried out by the farmers after manure collection for
better handling, transport and management. However, the cost of composting can be
considerably higher than its direct utilisation. Recycling of manure as vermicomposting is
a promising strategy of agronomical, economical and ecological importance.
The characteristics of vermicomposting derived from manures of different origin have
been investigated in the last years. Ullé et al. (2003) studied in San Pedro, Buenos
Aires province, the characteristics of cow manure, bed-of-chicken, pig manure
and horse manure as raw organic wastes, composted and vermicomposted by Eisenia
foetida after a thermophilic phase (US EPA 40 CFR Part 503). Giulietti et al. (2008)
also studied vermicompost originated from cow, horse, goat and hen feces in San Luis
province whereas Campitelli et al. (2008) evaluated the quality of vermicomposted
rabbit manure in Cordoba province. Caprines for milk and meat production are
a key source of income for rural families in Santiago del Estero province, with 15% of
the national production. González et al. (2008) compared traditionally composted
and vermicomposted goat, horse and cow manures. Physicochemical properties
for fresh manures, traditionally composted and vermicomposted manures are summarised
in Table 1.
The pH value is one of the most frequent parameters used to characterise composted
and vermicomposted materials. Several legislations suggest pH values ranging from
6.0 to 8.5 for this kind of organic amendments to ensure compatibility with most plants
(Hogg et al., 2002). The pH of the vermicomposted products was, in general, lower
compared with fresh manures, presumably due to the production of carbon dioxide, initial
volatilisation of ammonia and the production of organic acids by microbial activity
during vermicomposting (Elvira et al., 1998). The pH of all vermicomposts ranged from
neutral to alkaline. Possible contributions to the near-neutral pH of vermicompost may be
the secretion of ammonium and the activity of calciferous glands in earthworms.
These glands contain carbonic anhydrase, which catalyse the fixation of dioxide and
calcium carbonate, thereby preventing the fall in pH (Kale et al., 1982; Lee, 1985).
244 S.I. Torri and M.M. Puelles
Table 1 Nutrient contents and some properties of raw, composted and vermicomposted
Manure pH EC OM (%) Nt (%) K (%)
C : N
(mg kg–1) References
Raw 9.11 5.58 59.8 2.4 2.30 1,2
Composted 8 3.7 44.2 1.74 3.24 1,2
7.7 1.2 31.5 1.19 0.43 15 : 1 1,2
8.2 15.82 0.84 400 3
Raw 9.28 26.2 1.17 0.45 1,2
6 1.5 22.5 1.08 1.30 1,2 Composted
7.2 7.3 14 11 6
6.7 0.7 20.4 0.93 0.40 10 : 1 1,2
6.6 13.18 0.7 139.9 3
6.7 29.71 1.25 0.11% 32 5
6.8 14.6 15 13 6
Raw 4.87 53.6 1.53 1.81 1,2
8.5 1.7 23.0 1.21 3.06 1,2 Composted
7.0 11.8 11.5 6
8 0.8 31.0 0.85 0.52 14 : 1 1,2
6.7 23.44 1.23 208.9 3
7.0 13.3 11 6
Raw 5.69 47.3 2.25 1.17 1,2
Composted 7 2.5 28.3 1.45 1.22 1,2
Vermicomposted 7.3 1.6 29.9 1.05 0.23 11 : 1 1,2
Raw 7.0 53.0 1.22 0.52 6
Composted 7.6 11.7 11.7 13 6
10.88 0.09 35.99 3
7.6 15.0 15.0 11 6
Raw 9.23 1.78 62 2.06 4
Composted 9.15 2.43 40.3 1.49 4
Vermicomposted 8.51 2.65 37.9 1.42 4
EC: Electrical Conductivity; OM: Organic Matter; Nt: total nitrogen; K: potassium;
C : N: carbon : nitrogen; P: phosphorus.
1: Ulle et al. (2004); 2: Ulle et al. (2005); 3: Giulietti et al. (2008); 4: Campitelli and
Ceppi (2008); 5: Castillo et al. (2005); 6: González et al. (2008).
EC is another parameter to be considered. Salts in fresh manure tend to be high (Table 1).
The EC in the final product greatly depends on the raw material used for
vermicomposting, in agreement with Atiyeh et al. (2000). Lasaridi et al. (2006) suggested
that the maximum EC value should be 4 dS/m, which is considered tolerable by plants of
medium sensitivity for salinity. Among the vermicomposts produced, all of them except
those derived from rabbit manure had lower EC values than traditional composts.
Use of vermiculture technology for waste management 245
Total N content was lower in all vermicomposts analysed than the corresponding
composts or fresh manure. Although microorganisms are largely responsible of organic
matter decomposition, and ammonia volatilisation, earthworms may directly affect
the rates of decomposition by digesting organic matter and feeding microorganisms,
or indirectly involving stimulation or depression of microbial populations (Lavelle and
Spain, 2001). Total N content in vermicompost ranged between 7 and 23 g kg–1, in good
agreement with data reported by Elvira et al. (1998).
The C/N ratios for vermicomposts of different origin were relatively high. The actual
ratio obtained depended on the composition of the original material. A C/N ratio
of 10–12 is considered an indicator of stability (Jimenez and Garcia, 1992). Lee (1985)
indicated that earthworms ingest and re-ingest available organic matter. However,
earthworms do not ingest all the plant litter, dung or other organic material that
These results indicate that vermicomposts from different raw material and time
of process may differ in its quality, as reported by Goyal et al. (2005) and Zmora-Nahum
et al. (2007). Few attempts have been made to find and define properties, which can be
useful to assess end-quality for composts of varying sources and from various facilities.
Campitelli and Ceppi (2008a) have proposed a statistical methodology for the
classification of organic amendment from different sources. The multivariate technique
was carried out using Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and typical classification
techniques (LDA) by determining parameters related to physical, chemical and
biological characteristics of composts, including: pH, Total Nitrogen (TN), Total
Organic Carbon (TOC), Water-Soluble Carbon (WSC), Germination Index (GI),
TOC/TN and WSC/TN. Through the use of statistical techniques, organic amendments
were classified in the categories A, B1, B2, B3 and C, according to stability, maturity and
2.1.4 Industry wastes
Industries produce huge quantities of liquid and solid wastes, resulting in sludge
generation. Economical and ecologically acceptable disposal of industrial sludge is
becoming a great challenge to industries, due to the high cost of sludge stabilisation
reactors, dehydration systems and transportation to disposal sites. Food processing has
emerged as one among the most important industrial activities in recent years. Industrial
wastes that are rich in organic matter and free from toxic elements or substances may be
suitable substrates for vermicomposting (Yadav and Garg, 2009). Transformation
of industrial sludge into vermicompost is of double interest: on the one hand, the waste
is converted into a valuable product, and, on the other, it controls a pollutant that is a
consequence of increasing industrialisation. Several research has been conducted on the
potential use of Eisenia fetida earthworm in nutrient recovery from industrial sludges,
including organic residues from fruits and vegetables (Sánchez de Pinto et al., 2006),
carnic and tobacco wastes (Altamirano and Zankar, 2008), fish offal (Laos et al., 2002);
lemon pulp waste (Navarro et al., 2009); rice hulls (Leconte et al., 2009) and puffed rice
scrap (Schuldt et al., 2005). Laos et al. (2000) reported that during the composting period,
values of total nitrogen, total organic carbon, total organic carbon: total nitrogen ratio,
and pH did not show a clear trend, whereas in most cases EC, ammonium as nitrogen
(NH4+–N) and volatile fatty acids decreased significantly.
246 S.I. Torri and M.M. Puelles
The results obtained in all cases confirm that vermicomposting may transform
solid residue into a commercially valuable organic amendment under controlled
2.2 Use of vermicompost as a biofertiliser
There is scientific evidence that vermicompost can significantly influence the growth and
productivity of plants (Edwards, 1998). Various greenhouse and field studies have
examined the effects of a variety of vermicomposts on a wide range of crops
including perennial grasses, like Digitaria eriantha (Giulietti et al., 2008); vegetables,
like tomato seedlings, Cv. platense (Valenzuela and Gallardo, 1997) and Lycopersicon
esculentum Mill. (Premuzic et al., 1998); lettuce, Lactuca sativa L. (Chiesa et al., 2006;
Coria-Cayupán et al., 2009), cv Marianella (Ullé et al., 2005) and cabbage,
Brassica oleracea (Cracogna et al., 2008); ornamental and flowering plants, like basil
seedlings, Ocimum basilicum L. var. Catamarca (Cabanillas et al., 2006), Impatiens
walleriana (Asciutto et al., 2006); field crops, like garlic, Allium sativum L. (Argüello
et al., 2006).
The use of vermicompost as biofertilisers produced an increase in yields in
horticultural crops both in fresh and in dry matter (Spiaggi et al., 2001; Coria-Cayupán
et al., 2009). The growth response of lettuce cv Marianella was evaluated in plots where
four vermicomposted manures (poultry litter, cattle, horse bed and swine) were applied at
similar rates (Ullé et al., 2005). All treatments rendered plants with higher average plant
weight compared with unamended control, though average weight was significantly
higher in the poultry litter vermicompost amended soil than in the rest of the treatments.
Similarly, lettuce crop yield significantly increased and an enrichment in its pigment
contents was observed when vermicomposts produced through the processing of cattle
manures, agro-industrial organic wastes were applied (Coria-Cayupán et al., 2009).
However, antioxidant value and phenolic levels were reduced in some cases. Some other
authors concluded that vermicompost contain humified organic matter characterised by
high molecular weight and an enzymatically active humic fraction, which has been
found to possess phytohormonal properties that stimulate plant germination and growth
(Garcia et al., 1992; Dell’Amico et al., 1994). The use of vermicompost as amendments
to reduce soilborne pathogen diseases is gaining the interest of plant pathologists,
manufacturing and processing industries, regulators, consumers and growers (Lazarovits
et al., 2001). The results obtained by Rivera et al. (2004) confirm that vermicomposts can
be included in the development of effective alternatives to control tomato damping-off.
In addition, it may be a tool to promote seedlings growth.
On the other hand, this organic material has large particulate surface areas
that provide many micro-sites for microbial activity and for the strong retention of
nutrients (Shi-wei and Fu-Zhen, 1991). Vermicompost contains nutrients in plant
available form such as nitrates, phosphates and exchangeable calcium and soluble
potassium (Edwards, 1998). The availability of P in vermicompost is often significantly
greater than in bulk soil. This can be attributed to the quantities of phosphorus
ingested by earthworms in the organic matter they consume, which pass through
the intestine and is afterwards excreted. Some authors believe that the greater release
Use of vermiculture technology for waste management 247
of P from casts is due to enhanced microbial activity (Lee, 1985; Scheu, 1987),
while others suggest it is due to increased phosphatase activity (Lavelle and Martin,
The use of vermicompost as a peat substitute in greenhouses has also been proposed.
Valenzuela and Gallardo (1997) evaluated the growth of tomato seedlings (cv Platense)
in mixtures of different proportions of soil and vermicompost. They reported that total
nitrogen, extractable phosphorus, available potassium and soluble salts increased
as the proportion of vermicompost increased in the mixture. These authors concluded
that EC values of 2.07 dS/m, corresponding to a 2 : 3 mixture of vermicompost and
soil, negatively affected tomatoes (cv Platense) seedlings growth. On the contrary,
Premuzic et al. (1998) reported that tomatoes L. esculentum Mill. grown in a glasshouse
on vermicompost or on a 1 : 1 mixture of vermicompost and soil had significantly
higher weight, number of fruits, and contained significantly more Ca, C vitamin and
less Fe than fruits grown on a hydroponic inorganic media. However, P and K content
in L. esculentum Mill. did not significantly differ from vermicompost or hydroponic
inorganic substrates. Arguello et al. (2006) reported that the use of a 1 : 1 mixture of
vermicompost and soil as a substrate caused early bulbing and lengthened bulb filling
period in ‘Rosado Paraguayo’ garlic bulbs. The treatment with vermicompost also
increased scorodose accumulation, resulting in greater yield and bulb quality.
2.3 Use of vermicompost in urban agriculture
Vermiculture was introduced in the Empalme Graneros neighbourhood of Rosario
City, Santa Fe province, in 2001. The project was based on international experience
of urban agriculture to lessen to some degree the food problems that large sectors
of this community were facing. One of its objectives was to introduce large-scale
vermiculture as an appropriate technology for processing organic waste and producing
biofertiliser in productive urban agriculture systems. Trials with fluid and standard
vermicompost were performed with tomato (L. esculentum var. platense), aromatic
and medicinal plants. An increase in the number and weight of fruit was observed
with the use of fluid and standard vermicompost. Thus, vermiculture resulted in an
appropriate biotechnology for transforming waste into an input at a small to
medium scale. Moreover, its low cost and simple handling made it available to
small producers and urban inhabitants with few financial resources (Spiaggi, 2005).
Actually, this community transforms about 6 t of organic waste per year in 2.6 t of
3 Use of vermiculture technology in environmental remediation
Most contaminants that are discharged to aquatic environments have the tendency to bind
to sediment particles (Alcock et al., 2002; Zheng et al., 2008). Nriagu and Simmons
(1984) reported that about 60% of the metal present in aqueous systems is bound to
sediments. Sediment-bound contaminants may pose a particular risk to the whole aquatic
system, for they may be released by desorption, increasing their concentrations in the
aqueous phase, or may be ingested by benthic organisms and released into the
248 S.I. Torri and M.M. Puelles
gastrointestinal tract of the animal (Chapman et al., 2002). The impact of these pollutants
range from simple nuisance substances to severe ecological impacts, involving fish, birds,
mammals and human health. Thus, in situ remediation processes have to be conducted to
reduce contaminants to an acceptable level.
The Matanza-Riachuelo River is located in the province of Buenos Aires, and is the
most contaminated river basin in Argentina and in Latin America (Olson et al., 1998).
This river has been used as a sewage destination since the colonial years, and throughout
the centuries pollution levels have steadily increased along with industrialisation.
The basin, with an area of 2,200 km2, is also home to Argentina’s largest population of
poor communities. Overall, the industrial facilities located along the watershed can be
characterised by use of old-fashioned technology and low levels of pollution control.
Usually, existing treatment facilities do not work well, and environmental compliance
is extremely low. Nonetheless, the government of Argentina, through the Secretary of
Environment and Sustainable Infrastructure (SAyDS), has made the Matanza-Riachuelo
problem the top-priority in its environmental agenda.
The complex mixture resulting from industrial effluents, municipal wastewaters, and
landfill leachates dumped into the Riachuelo River are mainly accumulated into the river
sediments. An experimental model based on the use of artificial particles as analogues of
natural sediments has been proposed to investigate the bioavailability and
bioaccumulation of several organic chemicals bound to sediments (Verrengia Guerrero
et al., 2001; Verrengia Guerrero et al., 2003). Lumbriculus variegates is a freshwater
oligochaete that feeds on sediments. This species has been recommended and widely
adopted as standard organism for bioaccumulation studies and toxicity tests (Phipps et al.,
1993; US EPA, 1994; ASTM, 1995). Moreover, numerous researchers investigated the
bioavailability and bioaccumulation of trace elements by L. variegates using these
artificial particles. Miño et al (2006) studied the uptake and bioaccumulation of lead (Pb);
Piol et al. (2006) used these artificial particles with and without humic acid to investigate
the bioavailability and bioaccumulation of cadmium (Cd) whereas Puelles et al. (2008)
exposed worms to a mixture of Cd and Pb in the presence of artificial particles with sizes
in the range of 40–60 µm, to ensure worms’ ingestion.
The main pathways for chemical absorption are dermal uptake for soluble elements,
and gut and digestion for the insoluble ones (Weltje, 1998). Becquer et al. (2005)
concluded that the ingestion of metals bound to soil components followed by their
cellular assimilation are likely to be the most important pathway for metals to enter the
body tissue of invertebrates, whereas dermal uptake of dissolved ions is less important,
except perhaps for Cd. Both studied elements accumulation were abnormally high in
water (Puelles et al., 2008). These results were explained because, in the absence of
particulate matter, L. variegates was unable to burrow and was probably more
stressed and mobile than they would be in a natural situation, leading to a higher
accumulation than expected, as it was previously observed by Miño et al. (2006).
In this way, Lumbriculus variegates species can accumulate Cd and Pb, when these
elements are in aqueous phase, or when Cd and Pb are bound to minerals or organic
compounds by ingestion, as simulated with the artificial particles. The results obtained by
Miño et al. (2006), Piol et al. (2006) and Puelles et al. (2008) suggest that L. variegates
may be potentially used as a bioindicator organism to reduce inorganic pollution in
Use of vermiculture technology for waste management 249
The experiments reported in Argentina have substantiated the feasibility of utilisation
of different kinds of waste (MSW, manure and industry wastes) for vermicomposting.
In this way, solid residues that cause economic and environmental problems may be
transformed into a commercially valuable organic amendment under controlled
conditions. Amending soils with vermicompost increased the growth and yield
of some horticultural crops, ornamental and flowering plants. Nonetheless,
the availability of trace elements in vermicompost has to be carefully studied.
Vermiremediation studies are incipient in Argentina. Nevertheless, research on
L. variegates suggest that this species may be potentially used to reduce inorganic
pollution in marine sediments.
Alcock, S., Barcelo, D. and Hansen, P.D. (2002) ‘Monitoring freshwater sediments’, Biosensors
and Bioelectronics, Vol. 18, No. 8, pp.1077–1083.
Altamirano, F.E. and Zankar, G. (2008) ‘Propiedades del compost y lombricompuesto de residuos
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