Hemp is a variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. that contains minimal amounts (less than 1%) of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is a tall, slender, fibrous plant similar to flax. Various parts of the plant can be used to make a wide variety of textiles, paper, paints, animal feed, plastics, clothing, cosmetics, medicine, food products, insulation, and many others. One of the most intriguing uses for industrial hemp is in cleaning up soil contamination. Nowadays, seemingly everyone is looking to jump on the ‘green Earth’ bandwagon, and most of these folks don’t even realize that one of the potentially biggest contributing factors to a cleaner planted is industrial hemp. It’s easy to grow and inexpensive to maintain, however it’s most likely banned in your state. It’s been illegal to grow for decades now, and this has more and more people scratching their heads as to why.
In the late 1990s industrial hemp was tested at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine to help heal the soil. Because of the quick rate in which it grows, up to 250 to 400 plants (15t in height) per square meter, industrial hemp showed it could clean the land of contaminated pollutants like sewer sludge, fly ash, and other metals. In 1989, three years after the explosion, the Soviet government asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess the radiological and health situation in the area around the power plant. Toxic metals and radioactive emissions were contaminating the dirt, plants, and animals. Iodine, cesium-137, strontium, and plutonium were among some of the harmful toxins infesting nearly everything in the surrounding area.
A soil cleanup method was proposed using green plants to remove the toxins from the soil in a technique called phytoremediation. This was the term created by Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers University. He was one of the original members of the team who was asked to examine food safety at the Chernobyl site. Phytoremediation is a process that takes advantage of the fact that green plants can extract and concentrate certain elements within their ecosystem. Some plants can grow in metal-laden soils, extract certain metals through their roots, and accumulate them in their tissues without being damaged. In this way, pollutants are either removed from the soil and groundwater or rendered harmless. This complex filtering system would prove to be effective in sucking out pollutants and leaving only the natural, fresh, soil. Much like a maggot might be used to clean a wound.
There are a handful of scientists, researchers, and companies funding efforts to test the different varieties of plants that can be used in this process to clean polluted soils, and make no mistake, industrial hemp is at the forefront.