Plants as Pollution Sponges

Essay by pjchung October 2006

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This article approaches the difficult and ongoing problem of pollution. Pollution is the release of chemical, physical, biological or radioactive contaminants to the environment. The cost of substantially reducing industrial pollution is high; how to finance it without undue economic burden remains a question. Some experts hold that since population growth automatically increases waste production, pollution can best be combated by population control. Another view is that worldwide proliferation of industry and technology is the chief culprit, posing the threat of global warming and requiring curtailment if pollution is to be conquered.

As pollution increases, the search for the solution to it becomes increasingly desperate. Environmental scientists seem to have found the answer. This revolutionary breakthrough uses plants to clear some of the pollutants out of the atmosphere and the soil, and therefore making the space that future landfills take up less. Examples of this is the sunflower takes in uranium, ferns take in arsenic, clovers take in oil, and mustards take in lead.

Treating Metal Contaminants - Some plants can accumulate very high levels of metal pollutants, removing them from soil and groundwater. Plants can use rhizofiltration and phytostabilization. Plants can be raised in greenhouses where water can pass by their dangling roots, which absorb certain pollutants, and this is called rhizofiltration. Plants like poplar trees can prevent contamination from migrating underground, lessening the likelihood that the pollution will reach wells or percolate to the surface and taint streams.

Treating Organic Contaminants - First, trees would surround the perimeter of the landfill since organic pollutants are broken down by plants or by the micro-organisms that thrive around roots. This is because plants situated around a landfill or along a river can prevent pollution from further spreading. The plants use phytodegradation and phytovolatilization. However, phytovolatilization proves to be a...