Soil Contamination: Remediation Options And Alternatives

Growing a healthy garden requires you to maintain clean and healthy soil. If you have soil contamination, there are numerous problems that could arise and make it difficult for you to get good growth out of your plants and flowers.

It can be helpful to conduct soil sample analyses before you do any significant work on your garden. The quality of your soil could be affected by a variety of factors, including if any nearby land had been used in the past for specific industries likely to have caused soil contamination. There might have been dangerous chemicals that seeped into the earth, which could in turn cause growth of fruits and vegetables that cause health problems.

People in urban areas should be particularly concerned about contaminants such as lead (which was once frequently used in paint and as additives to gasoline), cadmium, arsenic, weed killers, pesticides and fertilizers.

Cleaning Contaminated Soils

Fortunately there are ways you can clean contaminated soils, or at least reduce their toxicity. The best strategy is to adjust the pH levels in the soil as close to neutral as possible.

You can, for example, add some nutrient-rich organic compounds into the soil, plus layers of peat moss, aged manure and compost, helping to protect plants in the area from damage. You should also always be sure to thoroughly wash any fruits or vegetables before you eat them.

Using raised garden beds is another great idea, as you control the soil that goes into them. Plus, these types of raised beds are becoming particularly trendy right now, meaning you can add some extra aesthetic appeal to your outdoor spaces.

There are many other less traditional ways that can heal your soil contamination, including by planting certain types of plants that naturally put minerals into the soil to counteract some of the harmful chemicals that exist there. Examples of such plants include:

  • White clover
  • Sunflowers
  • White lupine
  • Violets
  • Indian mustard
  • Mulberry
  • Paul’s scarlet rose
  • Honey locust
  • Brake fern
  • Tall fescue

Other soil scientists and botanists have also done some research into whether hemp has the ability to counteract contaminants in the earth and “clean up” the soils it encounters. One study performed by a grad student at Colorado State University involved planting hemp in a soil that had been dosed with varying levels of selenium, which can be a strong pollutant in heavy industrial and agricultural areas.

Early indications of the process are promising—the hemp was highly tolerant of the selenium. None of the plants died, and only a few showed signs of stress when exposed to the highest levels of selenium. The next step is to see how much of the selenium the plants withdraw from the soil.

These are just a few examples of some of the work being done to remediate soil contamination. We would be happy to provide more information about what you should do if you have contaminated soils in your gardens.

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About the Author:

Dr. Leanne J Philip, BSc. (Hon.); MSc.; PhD. is the Managing Director & Chief Scientist of Soil Advocates Inc. She studied at the University of Guelph as an undergraduate (Plant Biology, Environmental Management and Urban Horticulture) and as a graduate student (Plant & Soil Interactions). She has a keen interest in soil sciences, which lead her to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for doctoral studies in soil carbon sequestration and movement within British Columbia’s clear-cut soils. Further work in soil sciences in Europe and Canada reinforced Dr. Philip’s belief that soil processes and mechanisms belowground drive aboveground aesthetics and plant interactions. While active in both research, mentorship and teaching, most recently Dr. Philip has been working in applied soil sciences in industry and community outreach. Dr. Philip is a native of southern Ontario and is a strong advocate for scientific literacy within her community and responsible environmental stewardship.

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