Potential of Effective Microorganism Mud Balls for Wastewater Treatment

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by Siti Noor Aliza Apandi

Date: 4 July 2023


The urbanization of world’s population and rapid socio-economic development has led to plummeting the quality and quality of water around the globe. The challenges to achieve the sustainable water management is overwhelm but also its an important task to prevent the environmental deterioration (Boretti & Rosa, 2019). The industrialization growth has increase the amounts of polluted water expelled to the rivers and had cause the serious circumstances toward the water quantity and quality (Liyanage & Yamada, 2017). Most of the conventional methods used to purified and remove pollutant contaminant are astronomically expensive and non-ecofriendly (Yustiani & Alfiah, 2021). The effective microorganism (EM), is one promising way to improve the water quality in river bank and lakes, which has been proven to be effective, low-cost, and nature friendly. Professor Dr. Teruo Higa from University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan is the founder of liquid form of effective microorganism (EM), which consists of good and non-harmful microorganisms (Lynn, 2012; Zawawi et al., 2013). Therefore, the EM has brought a promising method in improve the water quality to meet the demand of the increasing population.

In Japan, there are Japanese national holiday on July 18 called Sea Day , where the events of people throwing the EM mud balls into the water took place (EMRO, 2009). In Malaysia, the use of mud balls were started in 2009 at Penang, where the 200,000 mud balls were thrown within 100m radius off Gurney Drive coast to make the water less murky and smelly (Chow, 2009). Recently, the mud balls throwing events at Sungai Damansara which held by Management and Science University (MSU) to support United Nations Sustainable Development Goals against water pollution degradation of environment (Borneo Post Online, 2019). EM mud balls application in private well, and ponds which can be bought at the local farmer store, or by online shopping website such as Shopee and Lazada. The average price of one EM mudballs is around RM1.50.


EM mud ball is made from clay which pounded and kneading with Bokashi, a mixture of several fermented organic matter such as hardened oil, fish food, sawdust, and rice bran (Wahid & Azman, 2016). The mud balls contain more than 80 species of microorganisms very specific non-pathogenic microorganism as shown in Table 1. Every microorganism has its own properties and role.

Lactobacillus plantarumLactic acid bacteria
Lactobacillus casei
Streptococcus lactis
Rhodopseudomonas palustrusPhotosynthetic bacteria
Rhodobacter spaeroides
Saccharomyces cerevisiaeYeasts
Candida utilis
Streptomyces albusActinomycetes
Streptomyces griseus
Aspergillus oryzaeFermenting fungi
Penicillium sp.
Mucor hiemalis
Table 1 Some non-pathogenic microorganisms in mud balls (Kyan et al., 1999).

2.1 Lactic acid bacteria

Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) as shown in Figure 1 gram-positive, non-spore forming, acid tolerant, fastidious, and specifically fermentative bacteria play a main role in production and fermenting various dairy, meat, and vegetable (Tamang, 2014; Zarour et al., 2017). Their end products improve the nutritional value of a food, with lactic acid as the major product during sugar fermentation (Tamang, 2014). A study made by Odey et al., LAB is used as a pre-treatment technology to permanently reduce the fecal pH, elimination of fecal pathogen in fecal sludge in the water.

Figure 1 Lactobacillus sp. gram-stain under 1000x magnification.

2.2 Photosynthetic bacteria

Photosynthetic bacteria are a hydrogen producer under nitrogenase system by using the organic acids as electron donor. Photosynthetic bacteria have flexible metabolic pathways and high tolerance, which improve the removal of nutrients, heavy metals, and organic pollutant in wastewater (Chen et al., 2020). With the present of light as an energy source, the photosynthetic bacteria use organic compound, sulfides or hydrogen to fix carbon dioxide for anoxygenic photosynthesis (Puyol et al., 2017). Photosynthetic bacteria in EM balls play a role in purify wastewater and synthesized cells, to achieve the “zero access sludge” in wastewater treatments with nutrient recovery (Zhi et al., 2020).

2.3 Yeasts

Yeasts are unicellular fungi, which can be divided into two categories they are fermented yeast and oxidized yeast. Fermented yeast is use six-carbon sugar to ferment whereas oxidized yeast has no fermentation ability, and widely use in petroleum processing and wastewater treatment (Qadir, 2019). Wastewater with high concentration of organic compound, heavy metal ions, and domestic sewage also can be treated with present of salt-tolerant yeast (Wang et al., 2018; Wen et al., 2022). The end product of wastewater fermentation is lipids, glycolipids and enzymes (Wang et al., 2018). Yeast is widely use in treating the wastewater from food production industries, such as oat and cane molasses (Wongkarnka, 2005; Wu & Kao, 1976) . In China, yeast is utilize to treat starch in the heavy wastewater such as vermicelli wastewater for more than a decades (Hu, 1989).

2.4 Actinomycetes

Actinomycetes is unicellular filamentous bacteria, and spore forming bacteria (Ortenberg & Telsch, 2003). The study made by Hozzein et al., 10 actinomycetes from genera Nocardia, Streptomyces, Rhodococcus, Gordonia, and Nocardiopsis are able to treat the heavy metals and biological compound in wastewater by evaluating the biochemical oxygen demand, the chemical oxygen demand, and the total suspended solids. In the other research, the actinomycetes also have significant abilities to remove more than 70% of ammonia and orthophosphate from raw wastewater (Madkour et al., 2019). In mud balls the Streptomyces sp. is used, which dominant species of actinomyces (Awad & El Gendy, 2014). The bacteria has ability to producing secondary metabolites and able to degrade obstinate pollutants in wastewater (Soler et al., 2018).

2.5 Fermenting fungi

Fermenting fungi has fungal hyphae which capable to penetrate the contaminated soil, makes fungi has more advantages over bacteria (Leitão, 2009). Aspergillus oryzae is one of fermenting fungi in EM mudballs, which categorized  as amylase-producing fungus (Costa et al., 2021). A. oryzae was used in treatment of the cassava starch processing wastewater, where the pellet formation from A. oryzea were produce under the high concentration of suspended solids in cassava starch processing wastewater (Pengthamkeerati et al., 2011; Truong et al., 2004). On the other hand, several studies has conducted on Penicillium sp. on their ability on degrading the xenobiotic compounds with minimum co-substrate requirements make Penicillium sp. has potential in the bioremediation field (Leitão, 2009).


Environment and human health are depending on the water resources, and essential for economic development. The industrialization has increased the demand of water from year to year, with water pollution crisis along the way. The plummeting water quality resources, has created scarce of water and its availability for usage (Rajput et al., 2017). In this circumstances, the restoration and maintaining the quality of river, lake, and waterbodies are unavoidable to preserve the ecosystem, prepare for future drought, guarding against rising costs and potential conflict and to strengthen community (Evans, 2020). To this end, human ambitions exceed the earth’s limits. Throughout the world, the trends of economic development are accelerating beyond the earth’s limits, which unknowingly modified the environment we live in. The human actions have affected the climate, where the dry region get drier, and wet region gets wetter, with the evidence of water scarce in Africa, and flash flood in Asian countries, the deteriorating of water quality has become a threat to human and environment (Cosgrove & Loucks, 2015; Held & Soden, 2006). The application of effective microorganism as a biological treatment to improve the water quality by reducing the water pollutants is effective and popular due to low-cost compare to the other mechanical and chemical treatments (Zakaria et al., 2010). The study made by Rashed & Massoud, effect of EM application on wastewater has significantly reduce the concentration of phosphorus by 90%. In other study, EM shows a promising method to improve water quality by evaluating the EM effectiveness in reduction of alkalinity, total dissolved solids, biological oxygen demand, and chemical oxygen demand in domestic wastewater (Namsivayam et al., 2011). In addition, EM not only proven to be effective on improving the water quality, it also effective on soil. The application of EM on soil has improve the crop yield of Zea mays L. (corn) in Morogoro, Tanzania, without using any fertilizer, which  excessive usage of fertilizer could cause the algae bloom causing the oxygen deprivation in the surface of water (Berg et al., 2017; Saidia et al., 2010).


The application of EM balls in improving the water quality has widespread in recent years because of its low-cost, and maintenance-free methods. However, there are limitation to the EM balls in water treatment. Based on the published journal article made by Lurling et al., on the experiment of EM balls to control the growth cyanobacteria in lake water, are proven ineffective as the increasing concentration of cyanobacteria chlorophyll-α within 4 weeks of its application.

In my point of view, the application of EM balls in sludge decomposition is shed a new light on affordable ways to treat the wastewater. However, the after-treatment data of EM balls has lack of reproducible and consistent results. For example, after the 200,000 of mudballs throwing event taken place at Gurney Drive coast, Pulau Pinang back in 2009, there no data produced showing the quality of water has improve. The data of exact amount of EM balls or dose for treating the lakes, reservoir and rivers are not well produced. In the future, there should be more research on EM technology application in various area in different country which has different weather and climate, for the crop yield studies and wastewater treatment.


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