Category: Phytoremediation

Treating deep aquifer contamination with phytoremediation

Read the full story from U.S. EPA.

One promising solution for cleaning up contaminated groundwater systems is phytoremediation. Phytoremediation techniques use living plants as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly approach for cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater. Since the mid-1990s, plant systems have been used at several Superfund and private sites to contain and degrade contaminants. Phytoremediation of groundwater using trees is firmly established as a successful remediation technology for certain contaminants, particularly petroleum and chlorine-based products and solvents. Through a process called, phytodegradation, trees have been shown to degrade dissolvable contaminants in the root system and in the plant. For example, trees can break down contaminants through enzymes within the plant. Pollutants are degraded through oxidization and turned into carbon dioxide.

However, one limitation is that tree roots cannot always reach the depth where the contaminated aquifer is located. To find a solution to this issue, EPA researchers conducted a pilot scale study to test a system for extracting contaminated water from a deep aquifer and used drip irrigation on contained sets of trees to determine if and to what extent the trees can treat the deep aquifer contaminated water.

Spam’s new frontier? Now even spinach can send emails

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Scientists at MIT have taken the leafy greens online – in the hope they will be able to warn about explosives.

Rooting out nutrient pollution with tomato plants

Read the full story in Great Lakes Connection.

Tomato plant roots are an effective, inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to remove nutrients such as phosphate from water systems, according to recently published research out of the University of Windsor. The roots’ abilities compare favorably to commonly used materials such as sawdust or shellfish treated with iron.

How one fern hoards toxic arsenic in its fronds and doesn’t die

Read the full story in Science News.

The Chinese brake fern looks unassuming. But Pteris vittata has a superpower: It sucks up arsenic, tucks the toxic metal away in its fronds and lives to tell the tale.

No other plants or animals are known to match its ability to hoard the heavy metal. Now researchers have identified three genes essential to how the fern accumulates arsenic, according to a study in the May 20 Current Biology.

The tree that bleeds… metal?

Read the full story from the BBC.

Heavy metals like nickel and zinc are usually the last thing that plants want to grow next to in high concentrations.

But a specialised group, known as hyperaccumulators, have evolved to take up the normally toxic metals into their stems, leaves and even seeds.

Researchers have been studying Pycnandra acuminata in particular – a tree that grows on the island of New Caledonia in the south Pacific.

Fake Riverbanks Turn a Chicago Canal ‘Wild’

Read the full story from CityLab.

Chicago’s manmade North Branch Canal is polluted and lacks natural habitat. Enter 80 coconut-fiber “islands” that host wildlife and filter the water.

From Brownfield to Beauty

Thanks to funding provided by the U.S. Forest Service through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Delta Institute is using phytoremediation in Muskegon as an interim land management strategy – to help clean up the soil, beautify the site, and prepare the site for a more permanent redevelopment solution.

New database catalogues plants that soak up contamination

Read the full story at

Hyperaccumulators are unusual plants that can absorb much larger amounts of metal compounds in their leaves and stems than normal plants, and they are very useful for cleaning up contaminated land. As described in a New Phytologist article, researchers have published a database that provides easier access to information on the plant world’s hyperaccumulators.

The new Global Hyperaccumulator Database contains data on 721 species of hyperaccumulators. Investigators hope that it will expand as more discoveries are made.

The Global Hyperaccumulator Database can be found at

Probiotics help poplar trees clean up toxins in Superfund sites

Read the full story from the University of Washington.

Researchers from the University of Washington and several small companies have conducted the first large-scale experiment on a Superfund site using poplar trees fortified with a probiotic — or natural microbe — to clean up groundwater contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), a common pollutant found in industrial areas that is harmful to humans when ingested through water or inhaled from the air. Their results were published in final form Aug. 11 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Switchgrass and Bacteria Work Together to Remove PCBs from Soil

Read the full story from the University of Iowa.

Researchers at the University of Iowa Superfund Research Program (Iowa SRP) Center have found that switchgrass, a plant native to central North America, can effectively remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from contaminated soil. When PCB-degrading bacteria is added, removal of PCBs from the soil can increase further. This phytoremediation method may be an efficient and sustainable strategy to removing PCBs from hazardous waste sites.

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