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In recent years it has become clear that some environmental chemicals can cause risks to the developing embryo and fetus. Evaluating the developmental toxicity of environmental chemicals is now a prominent public health concern. The suspected association between TCE and congenital cardiac malformations warrants special attention because TCE is a common drinking water contaminant that is detected in water supplies throughout the U.S. and the world. There is a lot of concern about the clean up of toxic pollutants from the environment.
Traditional methods for cleaning up contaminated sites such as dig and haul, pump and treat, soil venting, air sparging and others are generally harmful to habitats. Some methods strip the soil of vital nutrients and microorganisms, so nothing can grow on the site, even if it has been decontaminated. Typically these mechanical methods are also very expensive. Most of the remediation technologies that are currently in use are very expensive, relatively inefficient and generate a lot of waste, to be disposed of.
Cleaning up contamination:
Phytoremediation is a novel, efficient, environmentally friendly, low-cost technology, which uses plants and trees to clean up soil and water contaminated with heavy metals and/or organic contaminants such as solvents, crude oil, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and other toxic compounds from contaminated environments. This technology is useful for soil and water remediation.
Phytoremediation uses one basic concept: the plant takes the pollutant through the roots. The pollutant can be stored in the plant (phytoextraction), volatized by the plant (phytovolatization), metabolized by the plant (phytodegradation), or any combination of the above.
Phytoextraction is the uptake and storage of pollutants in the plants stem or leaves. Some plants, called hyperaccumulators, draw pollutants through the roots. After the pollutants accumulate in the stem and leaves the plants are harvested. Then plants can be either burned or sold. Even if the plants cannot be used, incineration and disposal of the plants is still cheaper than traditional remediation methods. As a comparison, it is estimated a site containing 5000 tons of contaminated soil will produce only 20-30 tons of ash (Black, 1995). This method is particularly useful when remediating metals. Some metals are also being recycled from the ash.
Phytovolatization is the uptake and vaporization of pollutants by a plant. This mechanism takes a solid or liquid contaminant and transforms it to an airborne vapor. The vapor can either be the pure pollutant, or the plant can metabolize the pollutant before it is vaporized, as in the case of mercury, lead and selenium (Boyajian and Carriera, 1997; Black, 1995; Wantanbe, 1997).
Phytodegradation is plants metabolizing pollutants. After the contaminant has been drawn into the plant, it assimilates into plant tissue, where the plant then degrades the pollutant. This metabolization by plant-derived enzymes such as nitrosedictase, laccase, dehalogenase, and nitrilase assimilates into plant tissue, where the plant then degrades the pollutant. This metabolization by plant-derived enzymes such as nitroredictase, laccase, dehalogenase, and nitrilase, has yet to be fully documented, but has been demonstrated in field studies (Boyajian and Carriera, 1997). The daughter compounds can be either volatized or stored in the plant. If the daughter compounds are relatively benign, the plants can still be used in traditional applications.
The most effective current phytoremediation sites in practice combine these three mechanisms to clean up a site. For example, poplar trees can accumulate, degrade and volatize the pollutants in the remediation of organics.
Phytoremediation is more than just planting and letting the foliage grow; the site must be engineered to prevent erosion and flooding and maximize pollutant uptake. There are 3 main planting techniques for phytoremediation.
1.Growing plants on the land, like crops. This technique is most useful when the contaminant is within the plant root zone, typically 3 - 6 feet (Ecological Engineering, 1997), or the tree root zone, typically 10-15 feet.
2.Growing plants in water (aquaculture). Water from deeper aquifers can be pumped out of the ground and circulated through a “reactor” of plants and then used in an application where it is returned to the earth (e.g. irrigation)
3.Growing trees on the land and constructing wells through which tree roots can grow. This method can remediate deeper aquifers in-situ. The wells provide an artery for tree roots to grow toward the water and form a root system in the capillary fringe.
Determining which plant to use:
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Soil contamination, Ecological restoration, Bioremediation, Environmental engineering, Environmental soil science, Phytoremediation, Groundwater pollution, Rhizofiltration, Soil, Water pollution, Hyperaccumulator, Phytoextraction process
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