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Scientists, activists, and Micmac Nation members are working in unison to clean up some of the First Nations tribe’s land of harmful “forever chemicals” — by using hemp plants to remove toxins from the soil.
Forever chemicals are a class of artificial chemicals named PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
Forever chemicals were invented in the 1940s and are used in commercial products. They are in various products today, from cookware to cosmetics.
Hemp Cleans Up “Forever Chemicals”
The name “forever chemicals” is called that as the chemicals may take thousands of years to disintegrate, so as soon as they enter the environment, they remain there “forever.”
The products containing PFAS and its extremely long lifespan created an unfortunate situation where it is now in everything: in drinking water, soil, and our bodies.
This is an issue as forever chemicals at certain levels are harmful to humans, and it is linked to a variety of health issues, from making you infertile to cancer.
In the Aroostook band of the Micmac Nation, in 2018, got back over 800 acres of land from the United States government in Maine. The ground would include a part of the Loring Air Force Base, and it was previously used to train firefighters.
Foam that is used in firefighting contains PFAS. In addition, an inspection done by the United States Air Force in 2018 discovered “concerning levels” of forever chemicals at the site in their groundwater.
The Micmac tribe 2018 started working alongside the environmental organization Upland Grassroots and researchers from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to inspect the land and determine how they can decontaminate the site.
The Phytoremediation Approach
Most solutions that remove chemicals from the soil are energy-intensive and very expensive, so they wanted to try an approach named phytoremediation.
Phytoremediation occurs when crops grow on a site that is contaminated. As plants pull nutrients and water from the soil, at the same time are also soaking up contaminants.
This method has been used to pull harmful chemicals out of the ground where bombs are tested, and the plants can remove heavy metal pollution from the soil around old mines.
Named the Loring project, the scientists decided to plant hemp as it proliferates and takes in a lot of water.
Studies have shown hemp can remove toxic metals from the soil, although they did not test if it can remove PFAS’s.
The Future of PFAS Study
Currently, the study is ongoing, and their research has yet to be peer-reviewed. Still, the researchers are claiming the areas where they planted hemp showed a significant decrease in concentrations of the forever chemical (PFOS) found at the site.
A lot more research is required to determine if phytoremediation can extract enough forever chemicals for the land to be fully functional again.