Use of an earthworm lysosomal biomarker for the ecological assessment of pollution from an industrial plastics fire

Claus Svendsen, Andrew A. Meharg, Paul Freestone, Jason M. Weeks*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


A low-cost field technique employing retention of the dye neutral-red by lysosomes in coelomocyte cells taken from earthworms (Lumbricus castaneus), was used as a means of assessing the ecological effects (if any) of an industrial accident. Earthworms and soil samples were collected at the site of a large industrial plastics fire in Thetford, UK along a 200 m transect leading from the factory perimeter fence, over a layer of molten plastic impregnated soil and into the surrounding forest. Coelomic fluid extracted from the earthworms was dye-loaded with neutral-red and lysosomal leaking observed. Metal residues in soil and earthworms were found to be highly elevated close to the factory perimeter and to rapidly drop to background levels within the first 50 m of the transect. Coelomocyte cells taken from earthworms adjacent to the factory perimeter showed the shortest period of neutral-red retention (2 min); cells taken from worms further into the surrounding forest had a longer retention time (12 min), whilst cells taken from worms from a control site showed even greater retention times (25 min). Thus, the neutral-red retention times correlated negatively with measured residues of heavy metals in the earthworms, the higher the body metal concentration the shorter the retention time. This field trial has demonstrated the validity of using an in vitro cellular biomarker technique for use in biological impact assessment along gradients of contamination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-107
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1996


  • Earthworm
  • Heavy metals
  • Lysosomal biomarker
  • Neutral-red
  • Plastics fire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Soil Science
  • Ecology


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