Hemp bioremediation. The phrase doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue but it sounds excitingly sciency to a self-professed lingo-geek like me. Let’s dive deeper into what this is and why some people are saying it can SAVE THE PLANET.
Does anyone in the room not know that industrial hemp (marijuana or cannabis) is cultivated for its fibrous stalk that contains little to no psychotropic chemicals to get you high? Great, glad we cleared that up.
But what about this bioremediation stuff? Bio- stands for biology or biological. You know, living organisms. Re-me-di-a-tion is a tough word, even for native English speakers but it simply means correcting something or making it right.
In agriculture and ecology, remediation is the process of adjusting polluted soil made toxic by heavy metals or nuclear material. The preferred method used by land managers is to apply chemicals into the earth that absorb and neutralize the poisons.
Heavy metals (principally chromium, nickel, copper, zinc, cadmium, lead, mercury, and arsenic) are well-known environmental pollutants. Not only are they toxic but they persist in the environment and bioaccumulate (build up in the soil, water, and air). They come from natural sources such as weathering of metal-bearing rocks and volcanic eruptions, as well as human activities, include mining and various industrial and agricultural activities.
Soil reclamation turns unusable land into arable fields able to grow healthy plants fit for consumption by animals – including us humans. This is big business, folks. According to Environmental Business International, 2019 costs nourished “the $8-billion U.S. remediation services market, as well as…the broader $14-billion Remediation/Industrial Services segment of the $394-billion U.S. environmental industry.”
Trending now among practitioners of bioremediation are green technologies, one of which is phytoremediation (phyto is Greek for “plant”). This technique uses plants to eliminate or render harmless environmental contaminants by absorbing them through their roots and storing them in their leaves, stems or stalks.
Toxic metal soil remediation using plants is emerging as an eco-friendly and economically sustainable biological methodology that is easy to operate and less upsetting to soil ecosystems.
And guess what? Hemp is a champ at cleaning up dirty soil. Case in point: industrial hemp helped clean up the radioactive wasteland left in the wake of the nuclear reactor melt-down at the Chernobyl power plant:
“On April 26, 1986, a sudden surge of power during a reactor systems test destroyed Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union. The accident and the fire that followed released massive amounts of radioactive material into the environment.”
Fires raged out of control and the radiation levels were so intense that 28 of the site’s 600 workers died of the punitive effects within four months after their initial exposure.
After the accident, officials closed off the area within 18 miles of the plant, allowing access only to people with official business at the plant, those evaluating and dealing with the consequences of the accident, and staff operating the undamaged reactors. The Soviet (and later on, Russian) government evacuated about 115,000 people from the most heavily contaminated areas in 1986, and another 220,000 people in subsequent years.
The Chernobyl accident poisoned over 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 square miles) of Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine and its millions of residents. Agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concern over radiation exposure suffered by those evacuated.
In 1998, U.S. industrial hemp company Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP), New Jersey-based Phytotech (a developmental-stage agriculture biotechnology company focused on profitable enterprise incorporating new ways to use plants in three strategic areas: environmental remediation; nutraceuticals/nutritional supplements; and vital proteins), and the Ukraine’s Institute of Bast Crops began planting hemp to leech the contaminants out of the soil near Chernobyl.
Elaine Charkowski with Central Oregon Green Pages stated back in 1998 that using plants for soil reclamation was highly successful across a broad range of real-world applications:
“Phytoremediation can be used to remove radioactive elements from soil and water at former weapons producing facility. It can also be used to clean up metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and toxins leaching from landfills.”
Phytotech research scientist Slavik Dushenkov said that hemp is particularly effective in leeching toxins from soiled soil:
“Hemp is proving to be one of the best phyto-remediative plants we have been able to find.”
Chinese researchers reported on their successful experiments with hemp to absorb cadmium from the soil in September 2012.
Farmers in Taranto, in the Puglia region of Italy, a place renowned for its fine traditional cheese, had to cease operations after a local steel mill polluted the lands, crops, and animals. The program is gaining popularity with about 300 hectares of hemp planted. Each crop cleans more toxins out of the soil.
Those are only a few examples of the mightly cleansing power of HEMP. The only obstacles stopping an industrial rush toward hemp as the best soil remediation agent in the world are antiquated laws prohibiting the cultivation and use of all forms of cannabis.
Fortunately, those laws are changing as industrial hemp continues to prove its value. Is it possible that this common weed could save the planet?