The suitability of potworms (<i>Enchytraeidae</i>) and plants to test the toxicity of oil refinery sludge
Keywords: potwurms, plants, toxicity, oil refinery waste
AbstractLandfarming is used in southern Africa as a tool to dispose of contaminants in the petrochemical industry. A historically landfarmed site was identified at a petroleum refinery where the sludge deposited on the site consisted of a mixture of oil and water-soluble contaminants which included several hazardous chemicals. The aim of this study was to assess the toxicity of the sludge, as well as of soil from the landfarming site, and to determine if potworms and plants could be used in bioassays since there is a need to identify a variety of test species, representing different ecological niches. We exposed a soil-dwelling potworm (Enchytraeus doerjesi) to the sludge and the landfarming soil to study their survival, growth, reproduction success and avoidance behaviour. Five plant species and their seeds were exposed to different concentrations of sludge in potting soil, and consequently germination success, growth rate and biomass were monitored. The various soils from the landfarming site were not acutely toxic to the potworms and they even showed an increase in reproduction, compared to uncontaminated control soil. They avoided heavily contaminated soil from the landfarming site. We conclude that the potworms were not as sensitive as the earthworms and springtails previously tested. They may nevertheless still be utilised for testing the toxicity and recovery status of such soils, since they represent a different ecological niche and showed an avoidance response to refinery waste. The plants were not very sensitive to refinery sludge and presented mixed results. Lettuce and grass were affected most by the sludge, while beans were the most resistant. With the addition of low concentrations of sludge to the substrate, the growth rate of beans was even stimulated.