In the city of Taranto in southern Italy, Vincenzo Fornaro has planted massive stands of industrial hemp on his farm. He’s employing a tactic called “phytoremediation,” in which plants are used to remove heavy metals, radioactive material and other bad stuff from the earth.
Industrial hemp has been used to clean up deadly pollutants before, perhaps most famously near the site of the deadly nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in what is now Ukraine (and where, it should not go unstated, thousands of people are still at work at the power station, which produces six percent of the nation’s electricity). In the mid-1990s, a company called Phytotech worked with researchers and a Ukraine–based seed bank to plant thousands of hemp plants in and around Chernobyl.
Phytoremediation is relatively new—somewhat amazing to consider, as plants are not exactly a new innovation.
According to researchers from Colorado State University, hemp is extremely effective in removing from soils the toxic element cadmium—which is convenient, because cadmium contamination is everywhere. It’s seen in fossil fuels, old-school pesticides and many other byproducts of human civilization.
And since hemp grows quickly, has deep roots and doesn’t appear to be stunted by pollution, hemp is one of the best plants to use in phytoremediation, despite other plants being slightly more efficient.