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Hemp Phytoremediation: Cleaning nuclear radiation and toxic soil

hemp phytoremediation
Written by Alexandra Hicks

The medical benefits of cannabis, in all of its forms, are well documented – as are the countless number of products that can be made with it. But did you know this plant can also save the planet?

Hemp in particular, has an abundance of practical applications that go far beyond just its industrial uses. Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa L. plant with less than 0.3% THC. When it comes to replenishing the earth, hemp does so by removing toxic metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury, as well as radiation and other pollutants, from the soil via a process called phytoremediation.

Phytoremediation is the decontamination of soil using various plants. The discovery of hemp’s ability to absorb contaminants was made decades ago, and despite promising results, it’s still not a frequently used remediation method.

Does it really work? See for yourself

While hemp phytoremediation isn’t used much around the world, the technique has been long known to farmers and some countries have been experimenting with it on a much larger scale since the 90s. Most notably is the nuclear catastrophe site at Chernobyl, which contrary to popular belief, is actually NOT abandoned anymore. As a matter of fact, nearly 4,000 people live and work in the area – all the more reason to use one of the most cutting-edge remediation techniques known to man.

hemp phytoremediation

Contrary to popular belief, Chernobyl is no longer abandoned

In February 1996, Princeton, NJ-based company Phytotech, Inc. reported that various plants had the ability to remove up to 95% of soil toxins in as little as 24 hours. In 1998, Phytotech, along with the Ukraine’s Institute of Bast Crops and Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP), planted industrial hemp around the Chernobyl explosion site.

Immediately after the explosion, the radiation levels were recorded at 300,000,000 uSv/h, enough to kill a human being in just seconds. Today, radiation still exists in the area but has dropped significantly to around 0.3 uSv/h to 1.5 uSv/h.

Hemp phytoremediation has also been used in Italy to clean up the small town of Taranto, where the ILVA steel plant has been leaking dioxin into the air and soil. The Pennsylvania Industrial Hemp Council launched the Lehigh Project to test hemp phytoremediation in Upper Saucon Township – an arsenic-contaminated area that was once a zinc mine.

The Japanese are now interested in following suit to amend the damage caused by the Fukushima disaster. However, the Cannabis Control Law forced onto the Japanese by occupying United States forces in 1948 prevents hemp from being grown without a license, which are notoriously difficult to obtain.

According to Allison Beckett, cultivation expert at Marijuana.Com, “Industrial hemp has been used in areas of high radiation, such as Fukushima, with promising results. Not only does hemp pull toxic, heavy metals from the soil but it actually improves soil structure making it usable as productive farmland again. Plus, hemp is a vigorous plant that absorbs CO2 rapidly, making it an encouraging solution to climate change.”

Looking to the Future

If hemp phytoremediation becomes more widespread, it could make a world of difference in cities right here in the United States that are plagued with toxins. Flint, Michigan and East Chicago, Indiana residents have been struggling with lead contamination for years. The village of Sloatsburg, NY has contaminated soil from petroleum production by-products, and a variety of other contaminants can be found in soil across the country.

Remediation is expensive and using hemp could provide a safe and cost effective way to rectify environmental damage around the world.

For more information on the various uses of hemp, make sure to subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter, the top source for all things cannabis-related. 

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1 Comment

  • This is fascinating, Alexandra.

    I’d no idea this was being utilised in these locations. It really does open your eyes to the possibility of it being used on a further worldwide scale too.

About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.