Effective microorganism (EM) mud balls.

25/08/2010 01:28

With current increasing trends in population growth and socio-economic development, the

quality and quantity of water is gaining widespread attention worldwide. This increasing

concern about water quality and quantity necessitates the interventions in water systems to

meet the objective of sustainable water supply and prevent potential environmental

deterioration. Zacharias et al. (2005) emphasized that sustainable water management

which incorporates both socio-economic and environmental perspectives is a difficult but

essential task in order to prevent potential environmental deterioration. In recent years the

large amounts of polluted water are discharged into rivers and causing serious future

uncertainty in the water quality. However, method that integrates water quantity and quality

in water resource allocation has the potential to add value to decision makers who face

these challenges (Zhang et al., 2010). Various conventional methods are in practice for

purification of water and removing the pollutant contaminants, but most of them are costly

and non-ecofriendly (Dhote and Dixit, 2008). One of the promising ways for improving

water quality of rivers and lakes, is the effective microorganism (EM) technology which

has been much appreciated comparative to other conventional methods because of its ecofriendly

nature, and requires less inputs, cost and capital. The concept of EM was

developed by Professor Dr. Teruo Higa, University of Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan in 1980.

There are three types of microorganisms which are categorized into decomposing or

degenerative, opportunistic or neutral and constructive or regenerative. EM belongs to the

regenerative category whereby they can prevent decomposition in any type of substances

and thus maintain the health of both living organisms and the environment (PSDC, 2009).

The basic purpose of EM is the restoration of healthy ecosystem in both soil and water by

using mixed cultures of beneficial and naturally-occurring microorganism. Therefore, the

EM has great potential in creating an environment most suitable for the existence,

propagation, and prosperity of life (Higa & Parr, 1994). It has also been emphasized that

the sustainable water supply should include non-excessive use of surface water, nondepletive groundwater abstraction, efficient re-use of treated wastewater, etc. (Downs et al., 2000; Shiklomanov, 2000; Vörösmarty et al., 2000). The EM technology has a great

potential for restoring water quality by increasing freshwater supply to meet the demand of

various sectors. However, the sustainability of the freshwater supply for domestic,

agriculture and industrial use need to be analysed as it would be a critical aspect of

sustainable water management.  



EM consists of a wide variety or multiculture of effective, beneficial and nonpathogenic

microorganisms coexisting together (EM Trading, 2000). Essentially it is a combination of

aerobic and anaerobic species commonly found in all ecosystems. According to Higa

(1998), EM contains about 80 species of microorganisms divided into photosynthesizing

bacteria, lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, actinomycetes and fermenting fungi which are able to

purify and revive nature. The main species involved are normally the Lactobacillus

plantarum, L. casei and Streptoccus lactis (lactic acid bacteria), Rhodopseudomonas

palustrus and Rhodobacter spaeroides, (photosynthetic bacteria), Saccharomyces

cerevisiae and Candida utilis (yeasts), Streptomyces albus and S. griseus (actinomycetes),

and Aspergillus oryzae, Penicillium sp. and Mucor hiemalis (fermenting fungi) (Diver,


The different species of EM have their respective functions. EM can be applied to many

environments to break down organic matter. EM are not-genetically-engineered (nongenetic

modification organism), not pathogenic, not harmful and not chemically

synthesized. When EM is introduced into the natural environment, the individual

microorganism effects are greatly magnified in a synergistic fashion. EM technology

involves growing, applying, managing and re-establishing high populations of the

beneficial microorganisms in an environment or system. It is a natural and organic

technology that has been found to be useful in numerous ways to benefit mankind. It was

discovered that EM exhibits very thorough effects, and its use now spreading into

applications various fields is ambitiously promoted as a means of solving many of the

world’s problems. Some of the claims of EM applications include sustainable agricultural,

industrial, health (livestock, pets and human), odour control, waste management and

recycling, environmental remediation and eco-friendly cleaning (EM Technology, 1998).

The interest in the application of EM technology has indeed brought revolution in the

environmental aesthetic value.



The principle of EM is the conversion of a degraded ecosystem full of harmful microbes to

one that is productive and contains useful microorganisms. This simple principle is the

foundation of EM technology in agriculture and environmental management (Higa, 1993).

There are currently many different versions of "how to use EM" formulas. While some are

difficult to understand, some are outright confusing. Nevertheless, the EM applications are

generally similar, depending on the type and scale of the application, location, physical and

geographical conditions. The product most suitable and widely used in Malaysian rivers is known as EMAS EM1 which also is commonly applied in gardening, indoor plants, laundry, fish pond, etc. (PSDC, 2009). EM1 is the original solution required for the production of EMAS. It is a liquid concentrate of fermented EM whereby the microorganisms are alive but dormant. To activate the microorganisms, the concentrated solution is needed to be diluted with water, and further activation can be performed by addition of a certain amount of molasses, acting as a food source. Fundamentally, the activated EM suspension (EMAS) is a mixture of molasses (sugar cane) and EM in non-chlorinated water or rice rinse water (which provides the minerals for the multiplication of the microorganisms). The product is kept in a warm place of 20'C to 35'C. Fermentation process occurs after the second day and EMAS is

ready for use 7-10 days of incubation. At this point of time, the suspension has a pH

between 3.5 - 4.0, releases a pleasant sweet –sour smell, appears yellowish brown in

colour, and needs to be utilized within two weeks.Projects of water treatment and sustainability in Malaysia are via the irrigation or spraying

of EMAS or throwing in of EM mudballs. However most campaigns use EM mudballs to

attract active participation of the society. The EM mudballs are made by mixing ordinary

clay, red earth or top soil with EMAS, thoroughly kneading them and forming into the size

of tennis balls. Some mudballs have an additional mix of Bokashi, a fermented organic

matter made using rice bran, oil cake, fish meal, sawdust, etc.. Bokashi, a Japanese word

meaning "Fermented organic matter", has been used by Japanese farmers as traditional soil

amendments to increase the microbial diversity of soils and supply nutrients to crops

(Kurihara, 1990). After drying for about a week, the mudballs are ready for use.

For all of the projects, the main aims of the mudballs include to stop the growth of algae, to

break down sludge, to suppress pathogens, and to eliminate the foul smelling odours

caused by high levels of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane. In addition to these,

research and development are in progress to control the levels of total suspended solids

(SS), dissolved oxygen (DO), chemical oxygen demand (COD), biological oxygen demand

(BOD) and pH. The EM technology acts as an alternative to the conventional chemicalbased

solutions with the hope to revive the dead rivers. By educating the society and

involving private sectors on EMAS and EM mudball usage, the government hopes to

eventually create the awareness amongst everyone to play the respective roles in improving

the river water quality. The initial idea is to get all individuals to use especially the EMAS,

at home and then pouring it down to the drains whereby the solution will then be flowed

from the drains to rivers, thus indirectly cleaning the waters in the process.


The river systems in Malaysia are an integral part of the water resources system. There are

more than 100 river systems in Malaysia, contributing more than 90 per cent of the raw

water supply. Decades of rapid modernization and industrialization have inevitably led to

the severe deterioration of the river water quality. Recently EM have become a successful

weapon in the cleaning of water in nature, especially in regions of Asia. It is through the

activity of these EM that the river pollutants in Malaysia are also starting to be broken

down and cleaned. The EM technology has and is being applied in different domains

nationwide beginning 2008. An earlier effort in December 18th 2008 at Sungai Kelian in the state of Perak, EM

mudballs were dramatically found to improve the water quality of the river whereby six

months after throw in of the mudballs, the river was cleared of sludge; in fact the base of

the river appeared to be filled with beach sands . Measurements taken of six

parameters (SS, DO, COD, BOD, ammonical nitrogen and pH) showed that the water

quality has improved from Class IV (suitable only for irrigation) to Class III (suitable for

water supply, with extensive treatment) (STAR Online, Sept 2009).On August 8th 2009, an event celebrated in the state of Penang named as “One Million

Apologies for Mother Earth”, saw one million EM mudballs thrown into the seafront of

Gurney Drive in a move to resuscitate the aquatic life. The experiment also served as a

demonstration to motivate more than 10,000 people in realizing the benefits of managing

water quality, and to ensure of the program’s sustainability and continuity.

“One Million Apologies for Mother Earth Event”

Also in the sate of Penang, the Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC) has just introduced its Greening
Penang Initiative on October 31st 2009, to mobilize the adoption of EM as a sustainable
mediator for the continuous pollution. Through the Greening Penang Initiative, the PSDC
aims to encourage and inculcate the adoption of EM Activated Solution (EMAS) among
the nearby residents. Meanwhile Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, Penang has become
the first resort in Malaysia to set up a Research and Development Centre to study the EM
technology. The resort’s corporate social responsibility effort was themed “Pollution to
Solution – Save the River Campaign” started with a mud ball making competition amongst
the resort’s guests. They participated in the activity to contribute to the environmentally
worthy cause and managed to mould up 1,407 mud balls made within an hour, to clean up
the rivers nearby the Resort. The mixture made up of a combination of earth, EM treated
rice-rinsed water and Bokashi was patted into balls for slow and even disbursement into the
river. The mud ball was quoted as being like a magic ball which did wonders to the
environment. The concoction is extremely effective in breaking down harmful bacteria and
had been claimed to be used successfully in cleaning up 150 rivers in Japan (STAR Online,
March 2009). The resort agreed to adopt the polluted river and helps in its rehabilitation
using the EM mud balls as an initial step. This was part of the resort’s initiative which
everybody’s cooperation is needed to improve the river condition, and ultimately preserve
it.A pilot project by school students of Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Kelana also started to throw
1,100 EM mudballs into lakes as an initiative to cleanse and conserve the water ecosystem.
Themed "Green & Global", the event saw Motorola Malaysia employees and 27 pupils
from the school's Smart Rangers getting their hands dirty in a workshop where they
moulded the EM mudballs made of soil, fermented rice bran and EM solution. Before the
mudballs were thrown, EM solution was poured into the lake to improve its water quality
and clarity, and revive the ecosystem. The mudballs then are believed to help reduce
sludge, remove odour from the lake and control the growth of algae. In next two months,
another 2,200 mudballs were placed in the lake, because according to the experimenters
one mudball is needed for every one square metre and the size of the lake involved is 1,100
square meters. Evaluated of assessing the effectiveness and the improvement of water
quality is in progress. The Global Day of Service however has achived the government’s
goal of better education, social support and protection of our environment (Malay Mail
Online, 2009).On January 25th 2010, a group named Go Green Team launched an environment
remediation to rehabilitate a 3 acre polluted lake at Malaysia National Zoo (EM Research
Organisation, 2010). The mission was to create a healthier, cleaner sustainable environment
in and around the lake, providing a pleasant visit for the hundreds of visitors. To rejuvenate
the lake by improving the quality of the water, the Go Green team used the EM technology.
Mudballs with its proven water purification properties, were tested upon, with support from
Natural Resources & Environment Ministry. With previous successful projects, the EM
containing beneficial microbes are again tested to demonstrate and prove that water could
be kept fresh and odourless. The mechanism via breaking down of organic material and
eliminating bad bacteria as well as reducing sludge & turbidity, will then enable the
animals in the zoo to live in and drink good, clean water from the lake. The specific
program has entailed volunteers into making tens of thousands of mudballs, fermenting
them for a few weeks and throwing them into the lake. This endeavour has indeed created
greater awareness about environmental protection and preservation and set an example for
others to help create healthy, clean and sustainable surroundings. According to Higa &
Chinen (1998), the basis for using EM technology is that it contains various organic acids
due to the presence of one of the EM species, which is the lactic acid bacteria. The bacteria
secrete organic acids, enzymes, antioxidants and metallic chelates, creating an antioxidantenvironment, thus assisting in the enhancement of the solid-liquid separation, which is the foundation for cleaning water.

Perceiving bacteria as dangerous is now turning towards greater awareness of the microbial
world as a fundamental element of life. EM technology and the philosophies of Dr. Teruo
Higa are currently being used as a model to demonstrate the successful implementation of
genuinely sustainable technologies. In Malaysia, the EM technology is gaining
considerable attention for its potential to reduce nutrient levels of polluted water and
restoring water quality. The Malaysian government has realized that environmental
consciousness is the most critical element in laying the foundation of sustainable
development, and is urging everyone to begin taking action before our rivers and wetlands
are treated as wastelands and become a continuous flood zone.
The EMAS and EM mudballs adopted locally are emerging as one of the environmental
solutions towards reducing water pollutants and thus improving water quality in our rivers
and drains. The results of the projects nationwide have demonstrated the effectiveness of
EM technology in the river protection, and will be continually used as a basis for the
extension of EM technology in Malaysia in helping to recover, reinforce and sustain our
river nature. EM is easy and convenient for use, safe, unharmful, low cost and
economically effective and this has increases the effectiveness of application of this
technology. Moreover, the regular monitoring of water pollution level of river basin,
appropriate purification treatment and community participation in water resources
management will certainly help managers in taking informed decisions for water resources
sustainability and management.



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