Hemp vs. Chernobyl
Before the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis off the coast of Japan, there was Chernobyl, "the worlds worst civil nuclear accident." Unlike Fukushima which was caused by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the 1986 Chernobyl power plant disaster was caused by human error. Damaged by a series of blasts, the Ukrainian plant’s reactor released a cloud of radioactive dust across northern and western Europe, reaching as far as the eastern United States.
The radiation poisoned millions of acres of agricultural land in Ukraine and Belarus, with economic damage totaling over 235 billion dollars. The death toll estimates vary with present numbers reaching 734,000, plus an additional 70,000 who have been left with various disabilities.
A 19 mile (30-km) exclusion zone surrounds the disaster site and it could take up to 100 years for environmental remediation to effectively decontaminate the soil.
Industrial hemp brings hope. A well-known soil decontaminant, industrial hemp is a fast-growing crop with deep roots that grows easily in harsh environments.
It comes as no surprise that a 1990 task force organized by the Soviet government recommended the cultivation of nature’s own phytoremediator.
Phytoremediation is a "general term for using phyto (plants) to remediate (clean up) polluted sites." (1)
The process can be used to remove radioactive elements and accumulated toxic metals such as lead, nickel, cadmium, zinc, and chromium from the soil. Hemp cultivation has been used to phytoremediate a number of severely contaminated environments, most notably the Ilva steel mill in Taranto, Italy.
For decades the steel plant spewed toxic emissions that contaminated the local environment severely impacting farms and cattle grazing land. Today, 300 hectares of industrial hemp help suck up toxic metals surrounding the facility providing relief for local farmers.
Military bases, abandoned mines, toxic spill locations, and industrial yards are just some of the 30,000 sites in the US that would welcome a high-performing biological vacuum cleaner.
In addition to metals, hemp could be used to mop up "pesticides, solvents explosives, crude oil, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and toxins leaching from landfills.”(1 )While other plants have similar bio-remediation properties, they lack the economic versatility and genetic hardiness of industrial hemp. This multifaceted crop has over 25,000 applications - from cosmetics to textiles, food, medicine, paper products, biofuels, animal bedding and building material. Once harvested, the phytoremediated hemp can be used for industrial purposes without fear of the toxins contaminating the products.
Cleaning polluted industrial sites costs US taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year. The work is labor intensive and alarmingly underfunded. Phytoremediation with hemp is a cost effective measure that is easy to replicate. It will provide economic gains for rural communities, putting them on the path toward self sufficienticy. A few, well placed tax credits and federal deregulation will jump start the process.
Hemp cultivation for phytoremediation at the Chernobyl site highlights the interconnected nature of man and his surroundings.
While the human propensity for environmental destruction crushes the soul, plants offer remedial solutions in unexpected places. Industrial hemp is a prebiotic for the planet and a potential probiotic for human environmental negligence.