The answer to cleaning up the Anacostia River? It may be mussels


It’s no secret the Anacostia River is contaminated but thousands of live, natural filters are being placed in the dirty water to help the waterway recover from decades of pollution and human carelessness.

Volunteers and staff with the Anacostia Watershed Society spent Wednesday placing more than 6,000 freshwater mussels in special, submerged containers. The plan is to document how many of the shellfish survive and measure how much they grow. As the mussels eat, they filter particles in the water.

“It takes [the contaminants] out of the water and reduces exposure for other species,” said Matt Gallagher with the Watershed Society.

The Anacostia River covers 176 square miles of Washington, D.C. and Maryland. It’s estimated that two-thirds of the catfish in the river have cancerous tumors because of pollution.

The Watershed Society will check the growth and survivability of the mussels once a month for a year. If they live, the plan is take them out of the plastic containers and release them into the water. It’s not known how many mussels live in the wild here.

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“They’re pretty small, less than an inch,” said Diego Santaella, an intern with the Anacostia Watershed Society.

One might not make a difference but more than 6,000 mussels are in the river at seven locations. Over the next 365 days, they will filter more than 20 Olympic size swimming pools of water.

It’s best to keep them off your dinner plate.

“You don’t eat these. We don’t want people to eat these because they’ll be filtering out polluted sediments,” Gallagher said.

The mussel project is just one step in a larger clean-up plan to get the river swimmable and fishable by 2025.

“I think that if people start to see it looking better, then they’ll start to do their part and it will be a snowball effect,” volunteer Carrie Meyers said.

“Take pride in [the river] and go out there and help,” Santaella said. “I love being out here making an impact.”

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