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“Phytoremediation is based on the use of natural or genetically modified plants capable of extracting hazardous substances ie heavy metals including radionuclides, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons from the environment and turning them into safe compounds." Mahar (2016).  

“Phytoremediation is emerging as an efficient treatment technology that uses plants to bioremediate pollutants from soil environments… phytoremediation of organics appears a very promising technology for the removal of contaminants from polluted soil.” Sing and Jain (2003).  

"Phytoextraction, the use of plants to extract toxic metals from contaminated soils, has emerged as a cost-effective, environment-friendly cleanup alternative." Lasat (US EPA 1999).  

The US Department of Energy funded early phytoremediation projects in Poland beginning in 1999. Since that time, the scientific understanding of the process has grown by an order of magnitude.  

See studies noted below.

Phytoremedia_how works.png

Nelson et al. California Polytechnic University 2013.

There are now multiple success stories for phytoremediation.

Some locations have been addressed in as little as two years and others with my long-term projects. Heavy metals tend to require longer periods of time since the pollutant uptake is limited by the biomass of the plant.
Other compounds can volatilize through the leaves and the biomass of the plant is not a strictly limiting factor. Some notably publicized cases have occurred involving phytoremediation.
One of the most famous being the use of plants to remove radioactive cesium in Chernobyl.

"Hemp has proved to be one of the best phytoremediation plants we have found," said Slavik Dushenkov, a research scientist at Phytotech Laboratories.
Because of the extent of contamination, this was the most cost-effective method of dealing with it, although the process is going to continue for many years.

A similar approach is being taken at the Fukushima nuclear site . Another publicized example comes from farmers in Taranto, Italy , where they are removing dioxin from steel plant emissions that contaminated farmland .

This may be concluded by 2023 after several seasons of planting.

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Poland now has a statute on contaminated land with specific standards and a law requiring reporting of contaminated land.
The legal mechanism is strict liability and there is a surprising number of cases being processed under the public radar. “In 2018 GDOŚ alone received almost 1000 applications [involving contaminated land remediation].

Many queries affect from lawyers' offices, various organizations, but also private entities accordingly to Monika Jakubiak-Rososzuk, adviser to the General Director of GDOŚ…. From the beginning of the existence of a register of historical pollution of the earth's surface and damage to the environment, 608 decisions determining the remediation plan were issued.
Krzysztof Halkiewicz, director of the GDOŚ legal office. " Now Environment (online) 2019.

The process requires a risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis. See Agnieszka Skorupińska, Advocate, Leader of Environmental Law Practice at Cameron McKenna Warsaw Law Firm, "Contaminated Soils - Legal Regulations in Poland," REMEDy conference, Sept. 26, 2018, Warsaw


Where phytoremediation is feasible (and it will not work in all conditions) it is far more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly. Generally the cost is 10-15% the cost of traditional remediation. The figures below provide the relative cost comparison:

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Trapp and Ulrich, " Aspects of Phytoremediation of Organic Pollutants," Journal of Soils and Sediments March 2001, 1:37.

Trapp and Algreen, “ Phytoscreening and phytoextraction of heavy metals at Danish polluted sites using willow and poplar trees ,” Environ Sci Pollut Res Int . 2014; 21 (15): 8992–9001.

Vangronsveld et al. "Phytoremediation of contaminated soils and groundwater: lessons from the field,"  Environ Sci Pollut Res Int.  2009 Nov; 16 (7): 765-94.

Stuczynski et al. " Progress in Risk Assessment for Soil Metals, and In-situ Remediation and Phytoextraction of Metals from Hazardous Contaminated Soils," Presented at: US-EPA's Conference "Phytoremediation: State of the Science Conference", May 1-2, 2000, Boston, MA.

Schwitzguébel, Vangronsvelt et al. " Phytoremediation: European and American trends successes, obstacles and needs, " Journal of Soils and Sediments June 2002, Volume 2,  Issue 2 , pp 91–99.

Lasat, Phytoextraction of Metals from Contaminated Soil: A Review of Plant / Soil / Metal Interaction and Assessment . Journal of Hazardous Substance Research: Vol. 2. (2000 US EPA].

Singh and Jain, Phytoremediation of toxic aromatic pollutants from soil , Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology December 2003, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 128–135.

Cunningham and Berti, Remediation of contaminated soils with green plants: An overview , In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology, October 1993, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 207–212.

Ahmad et al . Phytoremediation Potential of Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.): Identification and Characterization of Heavy Metals Responsive Genes , Clean Air, Soil and Water Journal, Vol. 44, Issue 2 (2015).

Sharma et al . Phytoremediation: role of terrestrial plants and aquatic macrophytes in the remediation of radionuclides and heavy metal contaminated soil and water , Environmental Science and Pollution Research, January 2015, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 946–962.

Maciej Bosiacki, Tomasz Kleiber and Bartosz Markiewicz, Continuous and Induced Phytoextraction - Plant-Based Methods to Remove Heavy Metals from Contaminated Soil,  InTechOpen. [some success with other types of plants].

Mahar, Challenges and Opportunities in the Phytoremediation of Heavy Metals Contaminated Soils: A Review , Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, Vol. 126 (2016).

Girdhar,  Comparative assessment for hyper-accumulatory and phytoremediation capability of three wild weeds , 3 Biotech. (Dec. 2014)  4 (6): 579–589.

Linger et al. (2002). Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) growing on heavy metal contaminated soil: fiber quality and phytoremediation potential . Industrial Crops and Products, Vol. 16 (2012), 33-42.

Linger et al. Cannabis sativa L. growing on heavy metal contaminated soil: growth, cadmium uptake and photosynthesis , BIOLOGIA PLANTARUM 49 (4): 567-576, (2005).

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