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Radio waves may help in the fight against zebra mussels
Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Illinois, U.S.

Zapping zebra mussels with radio waves might control the pesky invader that clogs water intake pipes and threatens native mussels and fish in the Great Lakes region, scientists said yesterday.

Exposing fish tanks containing zebra mussels to low-energy radio waves emitted by a generator killed the lima bean-sized mussels within 40 days, apparently by causing the mussels to surrender needed calcium, Purdue University Calumet chemist Matthew Ryan said.

The radio waves did significantly less harm to other exposed organisms such as crabs, crayfish and other freshwater mussels - and had no effect on fish, according to the research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Since arriving in the mid-1980s in the ballast water of cargo ships, zebra mussels have proliferated in the Great Lakes and spread to other Midwest lakes and river systems including the Mississippi River. The mussels filter vast amounts of lake and river water, absorbing nutrients needed by native species.

Some hatch and grow atop the shells of native mussels, killing them. Clogging water intake pipes of water purification and electric power plants, the mussels are a costly nuisance requiring the use of chlorine and other chemicals to clear them away. Overuse of the chemicals could pose a hazard to other aquatic life.

In the fish tank experiment, in which the radio wave generator was put within a meter of the zebra mussels, the water was found to be rich with calcium released by the dying mussels.

"We can't get the zebra mussels out of the Great Lakes, but we can certainly prevent them from settling into intake pipes" by using radio waves, Ryan said.


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