Hemp is cleaning up and absorbing the toxins in contaminated soil in region including Chernobyl. Photo credit: twenty20photos.
Not only can people use hemp to make clothes, carpets, rope, paper, food and even plastic, but studies say it can also grow in – and clean – contaminated soil.
With its industrial, nutritive and medicinal properties, the magical plant has a variety of uses and health benefits. For example, hemp can be used as hemp milk, concrete bricks, massage oil and toilet paper. It can also help regenerate soil.
In fact, researchers used hemp for years near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to help reduce soil toxicity, reports Herb.
Researchers who have experimented with hemp in the Chernobyl region say that the plant demonstrates some of the best phyto-remediative properties. The use of hemp may just be the answer to environmentally conscious farming techniques.
Can Hemp Clean Soil?
Hemp is a bioaccumulator – which means it absorbs pollutants from soil, reports Santé Laboratories. Other plants that are bioaccumulators are alfalfa, peas, Canadian goldenrod and red algae.
Hemp is especially useful because it is a pest-resistant plant and can grow in any environment around the country, according to First Crop.
It usually matures within six months.
Heavy metals, such as iron, manganese, zinc, copper and magnesium, in contaminated soil can cause health issues, reports PLoS One.
These heavy metals can store themselves in the human body, and damage enzymes and proteins. Additionally, they can cause cancer and neurological problems, according to Science Daily.
Research also shows that the hemp plant absorbs harmful chemicals in contaminated soil and stores them in its leaves, stalk or stems. The process of the plant’s regenerative properties is called phytoremediation.
Other plants that also demonstrate phytoremediation are indian mustard, sunflowers, willow and indian grass and poplar trees.
However, hemp is rather useful above other crops. This is because of its fast growth, high root and leaf surface area, and low dependence on nutrients for survival, reports Science Daily.
Hemp’s Safety Concerns
About 75% of the hemp plant is still able to safely produce a variety of products after cleaning up the chemicals and toxins from the soil it grows in, reports Herb. However, more research still needs before determining if these hemp plants can be safely used for human consumption.
Because of hemp’s bioaccumulative properties, people may wonder if it is safe to consume. As for how people can avoid consuming hemp and the harmful elements it absorbs, Eco Sciences states it is important to research hemp products and their source. Because of its absorbent properties, these soil toxins can be extracted with the hemp and affect the human body.
However, companies like SC Laboratories have developed a standardized hemp contaminant test. Consumers can utilize this to assess whether their hemp products contain any contaminants. For instance, consumers can check test results (aka certificate of analysis) to gauge if the hemp product contains heavy metals.
Hemp in Chernobyl
The Chernobyl power plant station in Pripyat, Ukraine had four reactors. In 1986, technicians at the fourth unit poorly conducted an experiment. This resulted in a disastrous nuclear accident, reports the World Nuclear Association.
The explosion destroyed the reactor and killed over 30 people immediately, reports the BBC. The overall amount of deaths that officials attribute to the disaster varies greatly.
Four years after the Chernobyl disaster, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) intervened to evaluate the state of the soil.
They concluded that high levels of toxins like lead, cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium were contaminating the soil, according to the Global Hemp Association.
Researchers began to grow hemp around the abandoned Chernobyl region; they discovered its ability to absorb toxins, reports Arkansas Natural Products.
They continually used hemp after the disaster to absorb radiation, heavy metals and other toxins from the contaminated soil, according to Herb. Researchers then used plants to produce biofuel like ethanol, the publication further explained.
Scientist Vyacheslav Dushenkov, one of the members who conducted an experiment on hemp’s regenerative abilities in Chernobyl in the 1990s, deemed the experiment a success, Rolling Stone reports.
“For the specific contaminants that we tested, hemp demonstrated very good phytoremediation properties,” Dushenkov told the publication.
To prove these results, German researchers in 2001 planted hemp in soil contaminated with sewage sludge. They found the hemp was able to extract lead, cadmium and nickel, adds Rolling Stone.
The Future of Hemp
Not only can hemp remove toxins from soil, it can help replenish it. This is why companies like First Crop believe that hemp is the answer to sustainable farming practices. They want to help farmers struggling with soil degradation by cultivating more hemp.
“Soil degradation describes what happens when the quality of soil declines and diminishes its capacity to support animals and plants,” reports London’s National History Museum. “Soil can lose certain physical, chemical or biological qualities that underpin the web of life within it.”
It can occur both naturally or because of human activity, such as deforestation, overgrazing, intensive cultivation, or forest fires. These activities disturb soil and cause erosion, leading to an ability to properly hold water and more devastating effects. About a third of the world’s soil is degraded.
Hemp is a cover crop, which means it can help regenerate degraded soil by absorbing the carbon and nitrogen out of the air and replenishing it into the soil, according to First Crop.
As a result, it is possible that hemp can remediate the soil from thousands of sites around the world – roughly 30,000 in the U.S. alone, reports Herb.
Japan, for instance, is in need of hemp’s phyto-remediative properties. Radioactive waste from the Fukushima disaster in Japan is currently washing up on America’s coast, according to Sensi Seeds. However, Japan’s Cannabis Control Law prohibits the sale and growth of hemp.
As knowledge of its environmental abilities spread throughout the world, researchers say that hemp is the future of soil regeneration and can help save our soils.