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What Is Phytoremediation?
October 25, 2019

What could be greener than using plants to clean up polluted soil? Phytoremediation, the use of green plants to repair unhealthy soil, has sparked the curiosity of scientists and plant lovers for decades. Plants can do things that people can’t, like pull pollutants out of soil while leaving the soil in place. The Soil Science Society of America’s (SSSA) October 15th Soils Matter blog looks at the emerging field of phytoremediation.

Brake fern (Pteris vittata) growing in a hoophouse as part of UC Berkeley’s research program. Credit: Sarick Matzen

According to blogger Sarick Matzen, it is much more environmentally-friendly to leave the soil in place and let plants do the work. Pulling out contaminated soils from old industrial sites, mining, or even a chemical spill, can take more energy in the form of bulldozers. Plus, that soil is still contaminated.

“When we want to pull contaminants out of soil, we turn to superhero plants known as hyperaccumulators,” says Matzen. “These special plants take up pollutants and store the toxins in their leaves. About 450 hyperaccumulators are known to exist. They can accumulate arsenic, nickel, cadmium, and other metals.”

“From fancy ferns to common poplars, phytoremediation offers great potential to sustainably clean up and preserve precious soil for future generations. Because plants are living beings, developing these plant-based technologies for practical use takes time and effort. Most research to date involves short term, controlled experiments. That means that scientists must do large scale pilot projects to launch phytoremediation towards commercial remediation use. Think about old, polluted industrial sites in your area. Clean up now would likely involve excavators and dump trucks full of hazardous waste. Let’s work towards a greener future where remediation professionals carefully tend fields of green plants!” Matzen works at University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

To learn more about phytoremediation of soils, read the entire post here.

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