Exciting New Science Uses Plants to Clean Up Poisoned Soil


Brian KallerIn the last couple of centuries, humans have done a strange thing: We’ve dug the biggest pits, the deepest holes, and the longest tunnels the world has ever seen, all to find the most insidious and subtle poisons known to our mammalian bodies, remove them from deep inside rocks where they had lain sequestered for eons, and concentrate them in the places where most of us live. We’re starting to think this maybe wasn’t a good idea.

Take lead, which last-century humans put into containers, car parts, pipes, paints and many other products – and even in petroleum, spreading lead-tainted exhaust across the world. Lead causes brain damage and erratic behavior if absorbed into the human body, and its rise and fall correlates with the U.S. crime rate in the 20th century – the more lead was around children, the more crime appeared a generation later. It’s been banned from paints and auto fuel, of course, but it lingers on old buildings and in soil.

Or take mercury: Burning coal releases it into air and water, and thence into animals like fish – a 2009 study by the U.S. Geological Survey tested 300 streams across the United States and found that every fish tested contained mercury, a quarter at unsafe levels.

You could go on with a list of such heavy metals – cadmium, zinc, copper – right down the periodic table. Most of all, we have pulled out coal and oil and used it not just to fuel up the car and turn on the lights, but to generate hundreds of thousands of petrochemicals with unpronounceable names as long as sentences and often-unpleasant effects.

I say “we,” of course, but this isn’t a guilt trip; most of this was before your time, and you didn’t vote for it anyway. You and I use small amounts of heavy metals and fossil fuels in our own lives – driving, flying, heating, buying plastic products, just looking at this on a computer – but it’s very difficult to avoid doing so and still living in the modern world.

The consequence of so many people doing so many of these things, though, is that any urban area – and many rural ones – will have splotches on the map with large quantities of toxic materials in the ground. If you live where a gasoline station used to be, or a factory, a garbage dump, or any number of other things, you might have things in your soil you don’t want in your stroganof.

12/26/2014 10:47:58 AM

Thank you Brian for a very interesting and educational artical. Down here in Louisiana most people are aware of the damage that was and still is being done to our ground, like the sinkhole in Ascension Parish. I purchased some land last year and I'm planning a new garden in 2015 spring on about a third of an acre. I plan to test the soil, now I will use the info from this artical to make it safe for my family. I get these little flyers in my mailbox offering money for minerals in the ground but I just trash them. That was a big issue with my husband and I when purchasing our land was the mineral rights. My husband and I passed on a couple of land deals because the seller wanted to retain the mineral rights. A lot people aren't aware of this when purchasing land because the seller doesn't disclose it or the buyer doesn't understand the importance of it. Hope this helps someone when purchsing land, GET THE MINERAL RIGHTS! Thanks again Brian, Paula (Louisiana)

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