Environmental organization Upland Grassroots is growing hemp to clean up contaminants on land that was once part of the Loring Air Force Base. The base is categorized as a superfund site due to the high level of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. Now, the Micmac Nation’s Aroostook Band is taking ownership of the site to help revive the land.
The Micmac Nation, Upland Grassroots and other research partners started experiments to test hemp’s ability to absorb contaminants from the land. In spring 2019, they collected data on three plots. Over time, they started seeing signs of success. The hemp plants were lowering the soil’s PFAS levels.
This process of using plants to remove environmental contaminants is called phytoremediation. Hemp is a great plant for phytoremediation for various reasons. To start, the plant grows quickly across most parts of the United States. Further, hemp’s roots penetrate deeply to remove pollutants from the soil. With hemp laws now relaxed in most states, experts at Upland Grassroots say that the plant holds promise for other farmers, too.
According to David Huff, a scientist working with environmental consulting firm Nutter & Associates Inc., “At the end of the day, the data support phytoremediation as a viable approach and definitely established proof of concept.”
PFAS are highly dangerous chemicals, once considered a scientific miracle. The compound’s oil and water-repelling properties led to its use in everything from firefighting foam to nonstick pans and stain-resistant carpets. However, since the early days of PFAS usage, these “forever chemicals” have proved harmful and non-biodegradable. Studies have even linked them to various health problems such as kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage and poor immunity. In states like Maine and New Mexico, PFAS have been detected in soil, milk and even vegetables.
Speaking about the hemp phytoremediation project, Chief Edward Peter-Paul of the Aroostook Band said, “Protecting the land is part of the Micmac beliefs. Anything we can do to contribute to making the environment better, we want to be a part of.”
Lead image via Pixabay