Saying It With Flowers

Last summer U.S., Russian and Ukrainian defense ministers planted sunflowers on the site of a former Soviet missile silo, celebrating the Ukraine's nuclear-free status. Little did they know that the sunflowers were also decontaminating the soil, removing heavy metals and toxins accumulating in the area.At a recent American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting, scientists began discussing the results of using sunflowers as a cost-effective alternative to detoxifying water and soil near nuclear facilities. Scientists discovered that sunflowers floating atop water on Styrofoam rafts successfully removed toxic elements, including uranium, cesium, and strontium, from highly-contaminated waters. Using rhizofiltration (allowing plant roots to absorb the metals), engineers from Phytotech, a New Jersey-based biotechnology company, and Rutgers University concluded that sunflowers were the best candidates for toxic clean-ups.Results from field tests at a former Department of Energy uranium-processing plant in Ashtabula, Ohio and the Chernobyl nuclear accident site showed that sunflowers submerged in contaminated water decreased uranium concentrations by 95 percent within the first 24 hours, making levels lower than EPA standards.Burt Ensley, president of Phytotech, estimates that the cost of removing toxic elements with sunflowers would average $2 to $6 per thousand gallons treated including disposal costs, instead of $20 to $80 per 1,000 gallons for conventional chemical treatments.Known as phytoremediation, the process concentrates toxic metals in the roots, stalks and leaves of plants which can be easily harvested and destroyed--removing the immediate threat to the environment. "Phytoremediation offers us a way to reclaim many of our urban sites lost to toxic contamination," says Dr. Michael Blaylock of Phytotech.This spring, Indian mustard will be used to clean up a former battery recycling plant in New Jersey. If the results are encouraging, Phytotech believes plants will have a bright future as pollution fighters.CONTACT: Phytotech, One Deer Park Drive, Suite 1, Monmouth Junction, NJ 08852/(908)438-0900.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close