Phytoremediation: You can grow plants that help eliminate radiation in the soil

Sunday, June 19, 2011 by: J. McDonough-Horton
Tags: phytoremediation, radiation, health news

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(NaturalNews) Concerns about radioactive materials accumulating in soil and water since the nuclear accident in Japan this year have led individuals to look at natural ways to clean their property of possible radiation. One method worthy of examination is phytoremediation. Phytoremediation uses plants to detoxify areas contaminated by the accumulation of hazardous substances, heavy metals and pollutants such as radioactive material.

Remediation using various plants relies on the plants ability to draw material out of the soil through their roots and up into their stalks, leaves and flowers. Some plants are particularly adept at leeching heavy metals and radiation from soil and water. The prospect of using plants to clean up radioactive messes is attractive because plants are a natural, economical means to restore areas contaminated by radiation. In the face of nuclear accidents like the ongoing ecological disaster at Fukushima, this is especially important.

Other methods of removing radioactive materials from soils involve excavating the soil, disposing of it, or washing it with chemicals and returning it to the site. Both alternatives are damaging to the environment for numerous reasons that include the loss of topsoil and pollution caused by chemical treatments. Furthermore disposing large quantities of contaminated soil is costly and impractical for small communities or individuals.

In many cases, using plants to reduce levels of radiation and heavy metals is an effective and cost efficient means to do so. Many entities including governments, industries, and local communities have used phytoremediation successfully. For example, plant life at the site of the Chernobyl disaster demonstrated the ability to absorb massive amounts of radioactive material including radioactive iodine, strontium, cesium-137 and plutonium.

Clean up efforts at Chernobyl after the April of 1986, nuclear explosion included the use of sunflowers that absorbed radionuclides up through their roots from contaminated bodies of water. Phytoremediation in bodies of water is referred to as rhizofiltration. The success of using plants to cleanup radioactive material at Chernobyl gives promise to the use of phytoremediation at Fukushima and at other sites where radioactive materials are present.

Phytostabilization is another means in which plants can be used to reduce the impact of radiation on local environments. Plants are used to reduce erosion due to wind and rain and thereby keep radioactive materials from migrating to a wider area. The plants also absorb radioactive materials in the process. If a radioactive spill happens in an isolated area this is especially useful.

While phytoremediation is promising, it is not without problems. For example, saturated biomass still has to be disposed of properly. Plants chosen for phytoremediation should be chosen to be unappealing to foragers who may put radionuclides back into the food chain. Biomass must be treated as dangerous waste and cannot be composted back into the garden. Burning the harvested material alone is not a solution either, as the ash itself will be saturated with potentially toxic levels of radiation.

Is using phytoremediation a practical way for individuals to clean up their property?

Phytoremediation could be used to clean up individual, privately owned property that has been exposed to radiation providing that the problems associated with disposal of materials could be minimized, overcome or resolved. For the home owner trying to clean soil or water that has only modest levels of radiation some of the following plants may be beneficial; sunflowers, barley, alfalfa, fennel, sugar beets, spinach, lettuce and mustard. The plants that are harvested should not be consumed nor should they be composted back into the garden because radiation is concentrated as it progresses from soil or water into the food chain. Furthermore, the area being treated for radiation should be isolated from foraging animals such as deer.

For more information on phytoremediation check out these links;

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