Maya Elson first learned about the cleaning power of fungus in Olympia, Wash., a city she refers to as the mushroom capital of the universe. It was there she and friend Peter McCoy started a grassroots movement called Radical Mycology with an equally radical goal: teach communities how to use mycelium (the root-like component of mushrooms) to help clean polluted land and water.
Decomposing things with mushrooms is hardly new; people have used mycelium over the years to break down everything from diapers to bodies. But Maya is hoping to place this knowledge into the hands of people who need it most—and empower them to create change in their respective communities. Along with projects in the U.S., Radical Mycology is working with the Amazon Mycorenewal Project, which has been field testing the use of mushrooms to clean up oil spills in Lago Agrio, Ecuador since 2007.