bioremediation – Rhys Feeney

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Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, has a normative half-life of 2-15 years. This means it can take 15 years for 50% of the chemical to break down.

by friday               i am 50% used up               tho i’m tired               i make my weekly pilgrimage               taking foodscraps up to the compost bins at the innermost gardens

DDT was banned in Aotearoa in 1989. 21 years after it was first banned by Hungary; 27 years after the publication of Silent Spring.

as you walk up marjoribanks st               the congress of sparrows makes way for tūī song sweeping across the evening soundscape

30 years later, 25% of the DDT used in 1989 can still be detected in the soil.

the winding path past the entrance is dotted with marigolds               to welcome bees               large parts of the gardens are being restored               week by week

DDT is colourless, tasteless and mostly odourless.

you stand in the gardens               & know it is coming to terms with the cruelty               the topsoil puts on brave face

When DDT breaks down it forms Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane (DDD).

at the innermost gardens               community gardeners are trying to salvage the damp earth               they are planting mushrooms to cleanse Papatūānuku               they are making a web of healing fungi to extract pollutants               the gardeners sweat into the soil               the planter boxes are providing sustenance               pūhā               pikopiko               horopito

While DDD is classed a probable human carcinogen, the main issue is DDE.

i can breathe in the gardens in a way i can’t in the city               the air rich               full of love & nutrients

DDE is fat-soluble so it builds up in animal tissue. In this way it is like the lead in lead petrol and the fallout from atomic bombs. Unlike other poisons (i.e. 1080) which break down naturally, the only time DDE is removed from the body is when it is passed to the animal’s young via breast milk.

the burdens of inheritances are great               in the past 13 years               i have accumulated a necklace from my grandmother               & half the world’s plastic production

DDE and DDT are stored in bodyfat and when one animal eats another the substance is transferred. This results in what is termed ‘biomagnification,’ meaning each level of the food-chain accumulates more of the substance.

i am constantly reassured we are at the top of the foodchain               in fact there are two kfcs within walking distance of me               today i saw row after row of cars run over the carcass of a               tarāpuka               which is to say               magnification               i.e. the closer you look the worse it gets

Biomagnification threatens predators most, especially apex predators like native birds.

mycoremediation is a process that uses fungi to decontaminate the soil               it is a process of healing               it requires patience and care               it requires sacrifice               the linking of whenua to hauora

In 1948, Paul Hermann Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovering the insecticide properties of DDT.

the mechanisms of degradation are not always clear               but the results seem to make themselves apparent               every billionaire’s wikipedia page says philanthropist

The success of DDT led to the expansion of the pesticide corporations, famously Monsanto, which also produced 2,4–D, an ingredient in Agent Orange.

the culprits of degradation have their own private gardens               when you run your hands through the soil you see nothing               when i wake i taste metal in my mouth

Many fungi are hyperaccumulators. They soak up the toxins and can later be removed from the soil.

how much am i driven by urges               to help others at my own detriment

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring led to the formation in the USA of the Environmental Protection Agency.

you must believe in hope               in the form of spring daffodils               springing up when you have nothing left

There are ongoing efforts throughout Aotearoa to deal with DDT contamination, though more and more pesticides with long half-lives are entering awa, roto, moana and groundwater through agricultural runoff.

i place my feet in the gardens               i stand in the gardens               the soil doesn’t know whether to accept me               i whisper to the earth               how can we regain trust

In 2016, 60% of Aotearoa’s monitored rivers were unsafe to swim in.

we breathe
the earth hurts
as it remembers
we breathe
the whenua aches


February 6, 2020

Rhys Feeney lives & teaches in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. His work has appeared in Mimicry, Starling, elsewhere, & Sponge. His debut chapbook will be published as part of the AUP New Poets in 2020. You can follow him at @rhysfeeneybot

Categorized as ANNEXE

By Rhys Feeney

lives & teaches in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. His work has appeared in Mimicry, Starling, elsewhere, & Sponge. His debut chapbook will be published as part of the AUP New Poets in 2020. You can follow him at @rhysfeeneybot