The EPA estimates that over 30,000 U.S. sites alone require hazardous waste treatment. Areas contaminated with toxic metals, pesticides, gasoline, and explosives can be found throughout the country, posing a threat to local ecology. But in another win for cannabis, it turns out that hemp has been used to clean up deadly pollutants for decades. Colorado State University researchers found that hemp is extremely effective in the removal of heavy metals and radioactive toxins deeply rooted in soil.
Hemp’s link to the Chernobyl disaster
Using a technique called phytoremediation, industrial hemp was used in the aftermath of Chernobyl, Ukraine’s deadly nuclear explosion that occurred in 1986.
Phytoremediation is a newer technology that uses green plants to remove, contain or replace contaminated soil. It is considered a cost-effective, environmentally-safe cleanup process.
After the catastrophe, toxic substances entered the areas food supply via cows and other livestock who fed on nearby plants. The government had to quickly prevent the further spread of toxins by cleaning up the soil and making it a requirement that livestock must only eat from uncontaminated plants.
Molecular biologists and technology company, Phytotech found that cannabis plants have the natural ability to cleanse and stabilize contaminated areas, and in the case of Chernobyl, thousands of hemp plants were planted in and around the site.
Heavy metal toxicity
According to a study conducted by Colorado State University, much of the land across the globe is polluted with cadmium. Cadmium is a highly toxic, heavy metal used in frequently in the industrial world for items like batteries, televisions, cement, fertilizers, fossil fuels, tobacco and much more.
The metal is considered an environmental hazard in many parts of the world, and is even banned by the E.U. for its link to cancer and cardiovascular problems.
The United States currently spends billions to clean up contaminated soil each year. Industry, farming, waste disposal and further practices continue to damage the ecosystem, which has pressed many researchers to find alternative methods for land restoration.
According to plant-science journal Frontiers,
Phytoremediation is an elegant and low-cost approach for the decontamination of polluted sites and has been greeted with a high degree of public acceptance, therefore prompting research into the use of phytoremediation technology to address the large areas of land and water currently affected.
Why hemp works so well
Hemp is an ideal plant to use for bioremediation based on the fact that it grows quickly, takes on deep roots inside the soil and doesn’t seem to be negatively affected by existing pollutants, including cadmium itself.
Hemp has the ability to absorb large quantities of cadmium without bringing harm to the plant. Hemp is known for being resilient to most-known contaminants while don’t seem to inhibit its growth or quality.
Additionally, the hemp used to decontaminate soil can be reused to create biofuels, though it can’t be reused for public consumption after absorbing heavy metals from soil.
Protecting the environment using hemp and phytoremediation is one of the growing list of reasons why cannabis should be legalized by the U.S. government.
As it stands now, federal restrictions won’t allow this natural method of decontamination to be implemented on a large-scale in contaminated lands across the country.