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Pollution of Planet Earth’s Food Supply Source

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Vetiver Phytoremediation
Technology at work!
Watts Bridge, Australia.
Did you see the recent article in The Washington Post “Chinese official: Soil pollution hurts farming” claiming that at least 8 million acres of Chinese farm land will be closed to production due to contamination by heavy metals and other contaminants, including the over use of agricultural chemicals?  This problem is not just confined to China.  In India ground water is not only being depleted at an alarming rate, but it is also being polluted by overuse of agricultural chemicals and by toxic effluent from industry. “A recent Punjab State water department survey found that 1,166 of its nearly 7,000 projects were contaminated with heavy metals including arsenic, uranium and arsenic beyond permissible limits”. Additionally the overuse of nitrogenous fertilizer has in places seriously contaminated groundwater – the consequence - contaminated food and drinking water, and an increased incidences of cancer and other ailments.  This problem also occurs in the USA.  The Salinas Valley in California has serious nitrate contaminated groundwater due to years of fertilizer use for intensive agricultural cropping.

These are just a few examples of water pollution, there are many more, at various scale on all continents.  There is an awful lot of discussion and planning in an attempt to mitigate the problems; and in a few specific cases, normally associated with industrial wastewater, there are positive actions with good results.  However little is done on a wide scale because of lack of political will, cost, lack of suitable technology, and the inability of communities, landowners and businesses to address the problems collectively.

The Vetiver System can provide the technology to address some of the problems.  Vetiver Phytoremediation Technology (VPT) has the distinct advantage of relative low cost, low design complexity, and application over a wide range of conditions.  VPT can be used for cleaning up and stabilizing mine dumps and landfills, and treating the leachate from such sites.  It can be used to remove agricultural chemicals from the runoff from farmland and, preventing these chemicals from entering groundwater and surface water drains and streams.  One major strength of VPT is that not only has it been proven extremely efficient in doing its job, but unlike most phytoremedial systems that are based on constructed wetlands, VPT works effectively under non wetland conditions thus allowing much wider application.  VPT takes up, at high levels of concentration, most heavy metals, nitrates and phosphates and agricultural chemicals including atrazine and endosulphan.

The Vetiver System has also been proven as a technology that is liked by and is understandable to poorer communities. Thus we have examples of community use for erosion control (in many countries including Indonesia), urban ravine rehabilitation (Congo DR), wetland rehabilitation (Ethiopia), coffee coop wastewater treatment (Ethiopia), slope stabilization (Madagascar), and coastal infrastructure protection (Vietnam).  Wherever used, the applications have positive bi-products that include: carbon sequestering, biofuels, mulch, and materials for handicrafts and industry - real opportunity for a WIN WIN remedial program.

The contamination of soil and water can only get worse as population increases and the demands on our land and water resources increase.  It needs action by civil society as a whole and especially by communities associated with the most contaminated areas to act.  There are many actions needed involving many agencies, and that action is needed now.  Vetiver Phytoremediation Technology is one such technology that could be quite easily introduced on a wide scale, at minimum cost, to mitigate some of these problems.

Dick Grimshaw – Last post for 2013!


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