Waste to Health- turning pollution into resources
Cleaning Ganga
Lead Article
Lead Poster


Conversion of Sea-water
What is 'Clean'?
Sanitation in Human Habitation
Salt Remediation Honoured

Another View of Sanitation & Health


Seen Unseen

Science was better known as natural history at one time. Peace indicators (K-selected, that is, those who are the resource converters) do not have to signal us that everything is OK. These organisms are often silent and not readily seen. Waste managers (r-selected) are relatively more visible. They are also mobile and trap the excess waste resources to carry them to other location(s) where the resource may be in short supply. Nitrogen is the prime resource of nature and most of the waste managers(often known as pathogens and pests) manage the waste of nitrogen. They, however, charge service charges in terms of organics they eat to fuel this bio-service. 

K-selected worms, the unseen earthworking worms (or earthworms,true to their name), play a role of producing need-based supply of nitrogen, with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria. The team uses organics as their food. The nitrogen is produced in the root zone which absorbs it readily, keeping a low nitrogen status in the soil. The soil, thus should have a low analysis of nitrogen (to prevent losses and pollution of the groundwater which is used for drinking)and may have a high turnover of nitrogen whenever there is a demand from the plants.We should supply sufficient organics, as a mulch, to the soil, as a feed for this need-based nitrogen production.

r-selected worms have a role of trapping the waste nitrogen into their rapidly growing biomass. This is why they breed so fast, have migratory behavior and have predators who help them transport the extra nitrogen over a longer distance. Body structure and function,thus, matches the role. These worms operate in the organic litter and top layer of soil. They play a role similar to other litter organisms such as flies, cockroaches, rats, ants, termites and mosquitoes. We are often impressed by the visible worms. The down-under worms work silently at places wherever there is a shortage of nitrogen. These can not operate with unutilized nitrogen in their niche and hence operate in the root zone of the plants.

The logic of Unseen/Seen also applies to the nonliving world. Water that has nitrate is harmful for man. Nature signals us this by smell, turbidity and other parameters. These parameters are the manifestation of nitrates. Ice that is produced from nitrate contaminated water shows translucent shade, sort of a warning to us. Salts of heavy metals are colored, warning us about the pollution. Sulfides of heavy metals are black and insoluble, thus making a loud appeal to our eyes. This indicates a double crisis: heavy metal solubility and production of hydrogen sulfide, both are the result of nitrogen waste.

We need to ask the childlike question - why - when we learn physics,chemistry and biology in the school. Everything is eco-logical and could well be covered in a single subject of ecology, the science of nature. Science was better known as natural history at one time.

Dr. Uday Bhawalkar









Bhawalkar Ecological Research Institute (BERI).
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