Toilet worms can't be browned off

21:38, Feb 17 2009

The inventor of a worm-driven composting toilet had to prove the worms were not traumatised or stressed by their task before council bureaucrats would approve the system.

Coll Bell, who invented the "wormorator" as an alternative to septic tanks, was told by an Auckland Regional Council staff member to get an expert's report on the psychological impact on the worms after she became concerned during a site visit.

"She felt that the worms were being unfairly treated, being expected to deal with human faeces, and that it could affect them in a psychological way," says Bell. "I said, `Well, what do I do about that?' and she said `you have to have someone with the necessary qualifications to say the worms are happy'."

In the wormorator, a colony of tiger worms, in a chamber, filters solids from the toilet waste. The leftover water is filtered and disposed of in underground trenches.

The ARC was satisfied after vermiculture consultant Patricia Naidu reported the worms were in excellent health and breeding happily.

Bell said this was one of several hurdles during a three-year battle with the council, and contributed to his decision two years ago to sell his company, Natural Health Systems, to another Matakana businessman, Steven Hoyle, who took up the struggle. The ARC staff member was unavailable for comment.

Senior consents officer Robyn Floyd said the woman's concerns were fair because they related to an application to use the wormorator at a campground, where sewage flowed mainly for two weeks a year, with little flow during the rest of the year.

"The phrase was used by a new member of staff, but it did relate to a valid concern with stress on a proposed worm population from huge fluctuations in flows and thus feed for the worms, and the corresponding performance of the system."

 

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