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Giant Snails Monitor Air Pollution In Russia

01/23/2011 12:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Apparently humans have found another debatably cruel use for snails beyond escargot. A Russian waterworks company is using six Giant African snails to monitor pollution released from a sewage incinerator.

The incinerator is located on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg - it is one of the biggest sewage treatment facilities in the country. The snails have been fitted with heart monitors, and the plan is for the snails to breathe in the plant's smoke, and then have their readings compared to a control group.

This particular type of snail was chosen because, according to the Vodokanal state utilities company, "they have lungs and breathe air like humans."

These Giant African Snails (Achatina fulica) are common in sub-Saharan Africa. They are considered an invasive species known to eat 500 types of plants, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

While the waterworks company hopes that the snails successfully monitor pollution, they are facing scrutiny by various activist groups. Vodokanal reportedly refused Greenpeace access to their site last year, and the group is concerned. Greenpeace head Dmitry Artamonov stated, "I don't know if snails get cancer, but even if they do, it won't happen straight away, and we will not hear about it from Vodokanal."

This is not the first time that animals have been used to monitor pollution. German airports use bees to detect air quality, dog hair samples reveal arsenic contamination from a Montana mining site, and mussels are used to determine carcinogens in water.

Regarding the newest way that animals are being used to test pollution levels, what do you think? Is this use of snails innovative or cruel?

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